One of the most honored authors in the field of fantasy and science fiction, Lois McMaster Bujold transports us once more to a dark and troubled land and embroils us in a desperate struggle to preserve the endangered souls of a realm.
Three years have passed since the widowed Dowager Royina Ista found release from the curse of madness that kept her imprisoned in her family’s castle of Valenda. Her newfound freedom is costly, bittersweet with memories, regrets, and guilty secrets — for she knows the truth of what brought her land to the brink of destruction. And now the road — escape — beckons. . . . A simple pilgrimage, perhaps. Quite fitting for the Dowager Royina of all Chalion.
Yet something else is free, too — something beyond deadly. To the north lies the vital border fortress of Porifors. Memories linger there as well, of wars and invasions and the mighty Golden General of Jokona. And someone, something, watches from across that border — humans, demons, gods.
Ista thinks her little party of pilgrims wanders at will. But whose? When Ista’s retinue is unexpectedly set upon not long into its travels, a mysterious ally appears — a warrior nobleman who fights like a berserker. The temporary safety of her enigmatic champion’s castle cannot ease Ista’s mounting dread, however, when she finds his dark secrets are entangled with hers in a net of the gods’ own weaving.
In her dreams the threads are already drawing her to unforeseen chances, fateful meetings, fearsome choices. What the inscrutable gods commanded of her in the past brought her land to the brink of devastation. Now, once again, they have chosen Ista as their instrument. And again, for good or for ill, she must comply.
This novel won the Hugo, the Locus (fantasy novel) and the Nebula awards in 2004 for best novel. And on an objective level, I can see why this novel stood out for so many. It is the story of actual middle-aged woman, and it it’s a fairly quiet, contemplative story about trying to find a purpose in your life, as being Dowager Royina, her options are pretty much non-existent. Not only would it have been completely difference for 2003, but it would stand out even today. It is genuinely different and I appreciate that with all my heart.
I find myself not nearly as emotionally invested as I thought I would remain in this book. I’ve been working at this book for the last solid week and I was going a couple days without picking up the book. I was more or less making myself pick up this book. Heck, I even found myself reading a second book at the same time, which is something that I normally never do. It just wasn’t grabbing me. I tried to make a push to finish it this weekend and I couldn’t do it.
I wanted to put this out there though, because it does dare to do something different and I absolutely can see why this book is beloved by many. It may not have held my attention, but that doesn’t mean it won’t hold yours.