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Paladin of Souls    by Lois McMaster Bujold order for
Paladin of Souls
by Lois McMaster Bujold
Order:  USA  Can
Eos, 2003 (2003)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I have been a fan of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan SF series for many years, and enjoyed an earlier lighthearted venture into fantasy, The Spirit Ring. Paladin of Souls is the second in a fantasy series that began with the author's acclaimed The Curse of Chalion. It's set in a world often ruled by the whims of its five gods. This second episode follows adventures undertaken by the Dowager Royina of Chalion, Ista dy Baocia, now released from the curse of madness and the care of her mother, who has recently died.

Ista has lost husband, father, son and mother to the grave, and her daughter Iselle to the royacy of Chalion. She is hemmed in by old retainers who still treat her as if she is mad. Desperately needing a change of scene, and with support from Chancellor de Cazaril, Ista seizes the opportunity to travel incognito on pilgrimage. Cazaril sends her an escort led by two competent young captains, Ferda and Foix. And Ista finds a spiritual guide in the fat, self-indulgent Learned dy Cabon, and a companion in young, cheerful chancellory courier Liss.

Ista begins to dream of a mysterious castle courtyard, with a glow in the air 'like a rope made of white fire', connected to a wounded man. After her peaceful jouney is violently disrupted by Roknari raiders, Ista is captured and then rescued by an attractive nobleman, Arhys dy Lutez, whose father she once killed. In his castle of Porifors, she finds the courtyard and the comatose man, Arhys' brother Illvin, of whom she dreamed. She also encounters gods, who give her work to do, and demons, whose disposal is the task assigned to her. There is a looming invasion of Chalion, and a surprising romance.

Bittersweet Ista - 'Saint, sorceress, dowager royina of all Chalion-Ibra, converses with gods, when not cursing them' - is a wonderful character, damaged yet strong in all that matters. After a dark early life, ruled by a curse, she fights hard for her daughter's kingdom and for herself, and wins a remarkable future. Paladin of Souls is a must read for fantasy lovers.

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