No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Sunday, September 16, 2007

#51: The Hallowed Hunt -- Lois McMaster Bujold

The third in the Chalion trilogy, this isn't closely connected with The Curse of Chalion or Paladin of Souls. It's clearly the same world, presided over by a quintet of gods: it's possible that one of the failed attempts to heal Ingrey came by way of Ista, the heroine of the second novel. But the Weald is a darker and older place than Chalion itself, and this tale of shamanism and werecreatures is shadowed by the memory of ancient wars and the unquiet dead.

Ingrey is a fascinating protagonist -- I've come to expect no less from Bujold, but the craft that's gone into his character still impresses me. Sent off by Sealmaster Lord Hetwar to tidy up after a prince's murder at the hand of the woman he intended to rape, Ingrey thinks of himself as 'not quite bravo, not quite clerk, but a man to be relied upon for unusual tasks discreetly done'. Only from the actions and reactions of those around him does it become clear that he's rather more than that; a man feared and respected for his martial prowess, and feared, too, for the curse he carries. Ingrey, at fourteen, was spiritually (shamanically?) bound to a wolf whose very existence he's learnt, through hard and painful lessoning, to quell. No wonder that people never introduce him to their female relations.

Lady Ijada, whom he escorts to the capital, is under a similar curse, courtesy of the late Prince Boleso. And, it transpires, they are not the only two who have such a relic of the past in their souls.

There's immortality the hard way, here (and a couple of extremely thoughtful asides about the implications of the method). There's a wood haunted with the ghosts of sacrificed warriors from a war four centuries before. There are the five gods, and their hopes and deeds that intersect with Ingrey's own desires. And there is, gloriously, someone very like a Viking prince: Jokol, named Skullsplitter (which turns out to be a tribute to his epic poetry rather than to any stereotypical violence) and his tame ice-bear.

Towards the end the magic, the politics and the history became rather confused (though this might've been me, staying up later than I should to read). But there is a gloriously primitive feel to the Wealden magic, with its sacrifices and sacred animals and woodland setting; and though some aspects of the story were predictable, others were entirely unexpected.

I do wish there were more Chalion books: there's little sense of trilogy-conclusion here, and surely more to tell.

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