Tch, tch, tch, look at yourself, bittersweet Ista. Saint, sorceress, dowager royina of all Chalion-Ibra, converses with gods, when not cursing them…
I believe that the reason Paladin of Souls won the 2004 Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Fantasy awards goes beyond Lois McMaster Bujold’s usual masterful storytelling. The story resonates with something deep inside many readers. It is an example of the hero’s journey, an archetypal experience that leads to wholeness. The book speaks to our internal questioning about our purpose in life, as well as our struggles to communicate with the Divine—in the world of Chalion, the five gods. Don’t get me wrong, this is also a fun, relatively fast-paced adventure.
Bujold first introduces Ista, in The Curse of Chalion, as Teidez and Iselle mother, a woman made mad by a curse put on the kingdom and by the guilt of accidentally murdering her husband’s male lover. By the time Paladin of Souls takes place, Ista has recovered, but her family and servants are still overprotective of her. Ista runs away from home in the guise of taking a spiritual pilgrimage, accompanied by a spiritual adviser and a minimum of servants. (Her lady-in-waiting is a courier who knows more about horses than royal ladies.) After being attacked by raiders, Ista is rescued by a patrol from Castle Porifors. But, something more sinister is going on than just an expected attack from a rival kingdom. In addition, at Castle Porifors Ista comes to realize that she is the answer to someone else’s prayers. As the plot unfolds, she slowly becomes a paladin—a champion or hero—to souls.
Paladin of Souls is the second book of the three book Chalion Series. My guess is that many people could easily read it as a stand-alone novel. It is one of my favorite Hugo Award winning novels.