Okay, Paladin’s Grace is the second book in this low-stress fantasy romance series T Kingfisher/Ursula Vernon is writing. It’s not a direct sequel to the first (Swordheart), and an author’s note at the book explains that Kingfisher did mean to write a direct sequel, but got distracted by a different idea and wrote this one instead. A direct sequel is still on its way, we are assured, and that’s good to hear because I do want to go on with that other plotline.
In the meantime, the world is getting cluttered! In Swordheart, we encounter one possible magical threat – those horrible parasite things in the woods – that is not really very important to the story at hand, but provides a plausible plot hook for the future. In Paladin’s Grace, we encounter a completely different such threat: those horrible , . . not sure what to call them . . . don’t want to give too much away . . . those things that are responsible for the severed head problem. Not sure which if either of those elements is going to be important later. Both? Neither? If Kingfisher introduces a brand-new magical threat in every installment, count this world out as a potential vacation spot, that’s for sure.
Many more positive plot hooks too, like how about the two other sword-bound people and huh, I wonder if we’ll see Marguerite again, and how about the bird that screams curses in an inhumanly deep voice, and what did happen to Steven’s god anyway? Lots of little (and not-so-little) threads going off in many directions. The more immediate continuing villains in both books are the priests of the Motherhood, just as the Temple of the Rat God are the continuing good guys. A temple of holy lawyers is certainly an interesting twist on fantasy religions, I must say.
Okay: good things:
a) Fun writing style, including more than a little tongue-in-cheek humor.
b) A thread of grotesque horror. It’s getting easier to see the similarity between the T Kingfisher who’s writing these fantasy romances and the T Kingfisher who wrote The Twisted Ones. I like this because it’s one of the things that keeps the stories from being too silly.
c) A clever plot that has enough unexpected moments to be fun.
d) Characters that add enough depth to keep the stories above the level of pure froth. Again, that’s good for me since I don’t personally like stories that descend too far into silliness.
Steven, the paladin of the story, has this great backstory – his god died or at least disappeared, and all the holy berserkers that belonged to that order went crazy and started slaughtering everyone around them and couldn’t stop. Obviously some of them got stopped; seven are left and they’ve put themselves in service to the Temple of the Rat for various good reasons. That was three years ago. Now, in this story, Steven encounters Grace, a socially awkward perfumer whose unusually acute and highly trained sense of smell is central to the story. She has problems. Events unroll from there.
Many excellent secondary characters, particularly the Bishop and Istvan and Marguerite and Zale. I think the last is the only continuing character, but it’s pretty clear that Marguerite is most likely going to appear again, perhaps under a different name. I mean, surely Kingfisher has more in mind for her, given the peculiar revelations in this book? I hope the Bishop reappears too, preferably in an important role. And all the paladins, at least in minor roles. Just a great ensemble of secondary characters here.
e) I loved the technical details about perfumes and I loved how important the sense of smell was to the story.
a) It would be nice to use the word “lie” as appropriate rather than unnecessarily using “lay.” Not to belabor the point, but I can’t be the only person who’s corrected that in enough student papers to flinch when I see the same mistake in published work.
b) A civet is NOT A WEASEL.
Just in case anyone reading this has any of the following animals in a WIP, let me just mention: Carnivora breaks into two suborders or superfamilies – subclades, anyway – called Caniformia and Feliformia. You can certainly think of them as the Dog Superfamily and the Cat Superfamily.
The Dog Superfamily diversified mainly in the New World and includes dogs, bears, raccoons and raccoon relatives (coati, oligo, kinkajou, cacomistle, ringtail), and the weasel bunch (weasels, wolverines, skunks, badgers, ratels, otters). Also all the pennipeds – seals, sea lions, and walruses.
The Cat Superfamily diversified mainly in the Old World and includes cats, hyenas, aardwolves, mongooses, meerkats, genets, linsangs, the fossa, and civets.
I am aware that a lot of mongooses and other animals in that group look a lot like weasels in that they all have long bodies, flexible spines, and short legs. Many of the procyanids – the raccoon relatives – fit the same body type. It’s a highly functional design and animals of that basic type were ancestral to the whole Carnivore order. Basic appearance notwithstanding, calling a civet a weasel is exactly like referring to a hyena as a type of weasel, or for that matter it’s like referring to a cougar as a type of weasel. It makes people who know better flinch. Personally, I don’t think it’s soooo much trouble to google basic facts about civets at some point if you’re going to drop one into your novel.
This goes for every animal less familiar than, say, a wolf. If you’re going to make an animal important in your novel, please look it up on Wikipedia first. I remember some series or other that kept referring to otters as “rats” and that was even more annoying, since obviously the weasel family is not at all closely related to rodents.
Okay, moving on:
c) Probably much more important to 99.9% of readers, WOW, is it blindingly obvious who really poisoned the crown prince or what? I don’t care how unworldly Grace is, I’m telling you, blindingly obvious. As you all probably know, I have real problem with protagonist stupidity and I have to say, this was a stellar example.
This moment occurs late enough in the story that the reader is going to be invested and isn’t likely to throw the book across the room and quit, even if, like me, they simply detest stupid protagonists. Grace is soooo socially awkward that to a certain (limited) extent that excuses her failure to grasp the blindingly obvious even when it’s being hammered down on top of her with a sledgehammer. I’m actually more shocked that Zale didn’t twig well in advance of The Big Reveal, because there’s no possible excuse for that failure.
A fun, enjoyable story that is generally but not entirely light. Heavy on the classic romance beats, which is excellent if that’s what you’re looking for. Plenty of technical details about perfume, which is great. Reminds me a bit of Imperial Purple by Gillian Bradshaw, though that one is of course not as light or humorous. I liked Paladin’s Grace quite a bit, though not as much as Swordheart, and I’ll be happy to go on with the series.