Fantasy Round 37: Paladin of Souls
So, I’ve just read Paladin of Souls, which is the sequel to The Curse of Chalion.
It’s at least as good as the first book.
And, similarly… if you don’t read spoilers, definitely get it before you hit the rest of this post. It’s worth a fresh read.
Extrapolating the System Plus Explanations
In large part, the second book seems to satisfactorily answer most of the questions I have left over from the first, and generally does so in a nicely consistent way. The gods can only affect the world through the will of mortals, or otherwise manipulating soul-stuff. Demons can be contained by the gods. Demons can possess people, and an explanation is given for why that didn’t happen much in the first book which ties everything together nicely.
The Bastard (one of the five gods) is a rather… interesting deity. I think if you want a non-evil trickster deity, with a chaotic-good alignment, this is an decent example. A big deal is made about how he’s… well, a bastard (in the pejorative sense), but it’s also clear that people are allowed to choose not to do what he wants them to do, and that he’s perfectly happy to have his minions complain about his behavior. On the other hand, he does some… veeeerrrry creepy and sketchy things that I can’t really approve of. I mean, did that really have to be included?
Finally, I don’t recall seeing much about “temple sorcerers” in the first book. At all. Admittedly, these are discussed in a region where there have been no new demons for fifty years, and, hence, no new temple sorcerers.
That said, I still find it odd that we don’t hear about any. And, finally, it’s made clear that the new demons who arrive in this book were brought over by a rather large, old and cranky demon that had been cooped up for fifty years.
That still leaves the question of how the old cranky demon managed got out of hell in the first place…
A Satisfactory Happy Ending
This is one of the reasons I enjoy Bujold’s books.
She has a fondness for pairing off characters, and does so in a way that seems fairly natural. Major problems are solved, and not without pain or heartbreak, but in such a way that it’s clear that while the world and the characters have changed, the worst problems are averted and the world is getting better.
That being said… I do have to wonder something. It’s a common trope for male heroes to be essentially given a love interest/wife after their thrilling heroics, as a part of a “standard hero reward“. It’s a disturbing vibe if you think about it — as Jasmine says in Disney’s Aladdin, “I am not a prize to be won!”
In this case, the female heroine (Lady Ista) is rather explicitly informed (by the Bastard) that if she decides to stick around on Earth and work to send demons back to hell where they belong, she will be rewarded with the fellow she’s been falling in love with over the course of the story. Sure, the fellow in question is a fully developed character, is entirely happy with the idea, and has no idea that he was a reward promised by a deity… but…
People and relationships are not things to be given as rewards, regardless of how they align – or don’t align – with gendered stereotypes. Sure, it’s okay if romance is part of somebody’s happily ever after, but that should be a good thing for both parties. Because they are people.
That said, I think I’m just going to blame the Bastard for adding a creepy note to an otherwise pleasant resolution.