Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Hallowed Hunt, by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Hallowed HuntThe Hallowed Hunt takes place in the same fantasy realm as Bujold's earlier fantasy novels, Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls, but in a different part of the countryside. In the earlier novels, there is a source of conflict between the nations that follow the doctrine of the five gods, and those who only acknowledge four. In The Hallowed Hunt, we encounter another nation that worships the five Gods (Daughter of Spring, Mother of Summer, Son of Fall, Father of Winter and The Bastard), which long ago conquered a group of tribes who seem to have a more druidic tradition, allying themselves with nature spirits by taking the souls of animals into themselves with ritual sacrifice.

Bujold continues to live up to her reputation as the mistress of tale-telling. She has well developed characters, realistic scenery, and enough adventure and intrigue to keep you turning pages till well into the night. The story begins when Ingrey, a servant to one of the high counselors of the Hallowed King, arrives at a country estate where a prince of the blood has been murdered, to investigate matters. It gets complex quickly, as the prince was killed by a woman he was raping as part of performing a dark ritual attempting to gain the soul of a leopard for himself. It seems an obvious case of self defense to Ingrey, but the political aspect quickly spins out of control, and a romantic relationship begins to develop between Ingrey and Ijada, the prince's victim - or was he hers?

I believe it was John W. Campbell, noted SF editor, who defined science fiction as being stories about the effect upon people of new technologies (I paraphrase badly). If that's the case, then fantasy should be stories about the effects upon people of magical environments. Bujold demonstrates once again that she understands the necessary consequences of magical and divine activity for ordinary folks.

Bujold's fantasy doesn't have that sort of out-of-the-frying-pan feel found in her earlier Vorkosigan SF tales, but I give all of it a two thumbs up.

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