Review: Paladin's Grace, by T. Kingfisher
eagle at eyrie.org
Sat Jul 25 21:29:01 PDT 2020
by T. Kingfisher
Publisher: Red Wombat Studio
Stephen was a paladin. Then his god died.
He was a berserker, an unstoppable warrior in the service of his god.
Now, well, he's still a berserker, but going berserk when you don't
have a god to control the results is not a good idea. He and his
brothers were taken in by the Temple of the Rat, where they serve as
guards, watch out for each other, and try to get through each day with
an emptiness in their souls where a god should be.
Stephen had just finished escorting a healer through some of the poorer
parts of town when a woman runs up to him and asks him to hide her.
Their awkward simulated tryst is sufficient to fool the two Motherhood
priests who were after her for picking flowers from the graveyard.
Stephen then walks her home and that would have been the end of it,
except that neither could get the other out of their mind.
Despite first appearances, and despite being set in the same world and
sharing a supporting character, this is not the promised sequel to
Swordheart (which is apparently still coming). It's an entirely
different paladin story. T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon's nom de plume
when writing for adults) has a lot of things to say about paladins!
And, apparently, paladin-involved romances.
On the romance front, Kingfisher clearly has a type. The general shape
of the story will be familiar from Swordheart and The Wonder Engine: An
independent and occasionally self-confident woman with various quirks,
a hunky paladin who is often maddeningly dense, and a lot of worrying
on both sides about whether the other person is truly interested in
them and if their personal liabilities make a relationship a horrible
idea. This is not my preferred romance formula (it provokes the
occasional muttered "for the love of god just talk to each other"), but
I liked this iteration of it better than the previous two, mostly
because of Grace.
Grace is a perfumer, a trade she went into by being picked out of a
lineup of orphans by a master perfumer for her sense of smell. One of
Kingfisher's strengths as a writer is showing someone get lost in their
routine day-to-day competence. When mixed with an inherently
fascinating profession, this creates a great reading experience. Grace
is also an abuse survivor, which made the communication difficulties
with Stephen more interesting and subtle. Grace has created space and a
life for herself, and her unwillingness to take risks on changes is a
deep part of her sense of self and personal safety. As her past is
slowly revealed, Kingfisher puts the reader in a position to share
Stephen's anger and protectiveness, but then consistently puts Grace's
own choices, coping mechanisms, and irritated refusal to be protected
back into the center of the story. She has to accept some help as she
gets entangled in the investigation of a highly political staged
assassination attempt, but both that help and the relationship come on
her own terms. It's very well-done.
The plot was enjoyable enough, although it involved a bit too much of
constantly rising stakes and turns for the worst for my taste, and the
ending had a touch of deus ex machina. Like Kingfisher's other books,
though, the delight is in the unexpected details. Stephen knitting
socks. Grace's frustrated obsession with why he smells like
gingerbread. The beautifully practical and respectful relationship
between the Temple of the Rat and Stephen's band of former paladins.
(After only two books in which they play a major role, the Temple of
the Rat is already one of my favorite fantasy religions.) Everything
about Bishop Beartongue. Grace's friend Marguerite. And a truly
The best part of this book, though, is the way Grace is shown as a
complete character in a way that even most books with well-rounded
characterization don't manage. Some things she does make the reader's
heart ache because of the hints they provide about her past, but
they're also wise and effective safety mechanisms for her. Kingfisher
gives her space to be competent and prickly and absent-minded. She has
a complete life: friends, work, goals, habits, and little rituals.
Grace meets someone and falls in love, but one can readily imagine her
not falling in love and going on with her life and that result wouldn't
be tragic. In short, she feels like a grown adult who has made her own
peace with where she came from and what she is doing. The book provides
her an opportunity for more happiness and more closure without
undermining her independence. I rarely see this in a novel, and even
more rarely done this well.
If you haven't read any of Kingfisher's books and are in the mood for
faux-medieval city romance involving a perfumer and a bit of political
skulduggery, this is a great place to start. If you liked Swordheart,
you'll probably like Paladin's Grace; like me, you may even like it a
bit more. Recommended, particularly if you want something light and
Rating: 8 out of 10
Russ Allbery (eagle at eyrie.org) <https://www.eyrie.org/~eagle/>
More information about the book-reviews