Monday, September 1, 2014

The Hallowed Hunt

Lois McMaster Bujold
Completed 8/20/2014, Reviewed 8/22/2014
3 stars

When I read a novel, I am often amazed at the phenomenon of how the whole of a book can be greater than the sum of its parts.  I believe it’s the magic of good writing.  The concept, the characters, the plot devices, the prose, all add up to not simply a book, but an experience.  On the other hand, I’m baffled at books that have a multitude of good ingredients, but then produce something that’s just not very satisfying.  Bujold’s “The Hallowed Hunt”, my second read in and the third book of the Chalion series is sadly one of the latter.

Each book of the series is more or less independent of the others, but all are part of the universe began in “The Curse of Chalion”.  I admit I haven’t read the first book, but have been assured that none of them are really dependent on the others.  Having read the second and third books now, I’m pretty sure the problem is not that I haven’t read the first, but rather, there’s always something missing to prevent the book from being a satisfying experience. 

The universe of Chalion is great.  It’s high fantasy, i.e., middle-age-ish, with kings and queens, nobles, priests, saints, and shamans.  They exist in a world of magic and spirits, overseen by the pantheon of the five gods: the Father, Mother, Son, Daughter, and the Bastard.  This mythology is well-developed, and really, the star of the series.  “Hallowed” has an emphasis on the Son, lord of autumn, though there are references to all the gods. 

The plot surrounds the moody Lord Ingrey, who must transport the body of Prince Boleso to its burial place.  He must also bring Lady Ijada, Boleso’s murderer, to receive justice for her crime.  The conflict is that Ijada was, unbeknownst to her, set up to be a sexual partner, and perhaps wife, of Boleso.  She killed him in self-defense while he was forcing himself on her, and received a leopard spirit into her soul, transferred to her from Boleso at the moment of his death.  Interestingly, Ingrey has his own spirit animal, a wolf, also received under dubious circumstances.  This mutual animal-spiritual experience is illegal, but it binds them together in a mystery involving the king, his successor, the dead prince, and the souls of four thousand ancient warriors. 

See?  The setup is great.  The characters are great.  The universe is great.  So what’s the problem?  After two books, I think I’ve pinned it down to Bujold’s prose.  There’s something about the storytelling that just isn’t gripping.  She feels the need to go into way too much detail describing scenes.  I would often find myself enrapt by a scene or two and then a few pages later, lulled into near-coma by excessive description and angst.  When there’s action, it is very slowly paced.  At times, it seemed she had to include every breath and blinking of eyes as she described an interaction between two people.  I’m not an action fan, and I often go on and on about an author’s prose, but I think a good editor could have cut out a lot of the uninspired prose, and kept the tension at a better level. 

I still anticipate reading the first book in the Chalion series.  It fulfills a few of my reading challenges this year, the trilogy, the book of firsts, and the twelve awards challenges.  And I look forward again to being in this brilliant universe.  I just hope that the first book is a little more tightly written.  Three stars out of five.

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