I’ve recently been rereading Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Curse of Chalion, The Paladin of Souls, and The Hallowed Hunt. Again and again, I’m reminded how easy it is to just fall right into her worlds and in love with her characters.
While not a trilogy in the strict sense, these novels are all set in the same world. Each is a stand alone with all the plot lines resolved in a satisfying way at the end. While a minor character from Curse is the the main character of Paladin, Hunt has a completely different set of characters. They are told in close single third person POV and are, as a result, more focused, giving the reader a much more personal story (unlike the many multi-volume, multi-POV epics out there). I immediately felt involved in the story.
As with any Bujold novel, the reader is treated to vibrant characters. They are living, breathing creations crafted with obvious love. Her POV characters are intelligent and often witty, with a dry, self-deprecating sense of humor. Yet each is unique. Their different backgrounds shape their present personalities.
I loved the fact the POV characters were older than the typical fantasy character. They weren’t just starting out in life and each had backstories that were integral to the main plot. However, they were not as old as I thought from my first reading. What Bujold did was a neat trick. While none of the three protagonists were past their late 30s, each already had led a full, difficult life with many emotional and physical setbacks. They all felt older than their actual ages.
The religion of the five gods that runs through these books is deceptively simple. The ceremonies and festivals and the outer trappings are typical, but the deeper theological aspects are very interesting. Each book digs a little deeper. And the gods figure briefly as actual, enigmatic characters in a way I don’t remember reading before in novels. Very thought-provoking!
I’m fascinated by how Bujold layers her stories. You have your usual action plot and character development subplots, but they extend, overlap, and reinforce each other, rather like a master painter building up the layers of color on a canvas. Up close, they are just splotches of color, but step back, and the whole scene is revealed.
Ok, this post already seems rather long, but I feel I aught to give a brief description of each novel. So, here you are:
Cazaril, the POV character in The Curse of Chalion, was once a minor nobleman but, through mistake or treachery at war’s end, was sold as a galley slave and broken of body and spirit. He was later freed when the ship was captured by his own countrymen and is now the mere tutor of the Royesse (princess) Iselle. He must prepare her for future political marriage and keep her safe from the people who caused his own downfall and now pull the strings of government through her stepbrother, Roya (King) Orico and seek to influence the heir, her brother, Royse Teidez.
In The Paladin of Souls, Lady Ista was married young to the widowed Roya Ias and discovered that his family was cursed and it was passed onto her children. She is mother to Iselle and Teidez and only a minor character in the previous book and thought to be mad. When the curse was lifted, she regained her sanity. This story begins three years after she was cured and follows her on a pilgrimage which turns disasterous. Only Ista, with her special god-given sight earned in her previous life, can find the answers needed to stop an invasion of her country.
In The Hallowed Hunt, Ingrey underwent a forbidden ritual as a child that tied his soul to that of a centuries-old wolf soul. He spent years trying to get rid of it and finally was able only to bind it and go on with his life. He is now the commander of a troop of soldiers sent to bring the body of the Hallow King’s son back home to be buried and deliver Lady Ijada, the woman who murdered him, to face judgement. Of course, circumstances are never as they first seem.
Lois McMaster Bujold is a first-rate storyteller and one of my favorite authors. She has other fantasy novels I haven’t read yet and her Miles Vorkosigan scifi saga is excellent. In fact, I just heard she has a new Miles novel available now. I highly recommend losing yourself for a while in one of her worlds.