The Hallowed Hunt

by Lois McMaster Bujold

Cover image

Series: Chalion #3
Publisher: Eos
Copyright: 2005
ISBN: 0-06-057462-3
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 470

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This is twice now that I've started a new book in Bujold's Chalion fantasy world expecting that this is when the series will start feeling repetitive. This is twice now that I've been pleasantly surprised. The Hallowed Hunt, even more so than Paladin of Souls, stands alone and has only passing references to the previous books. About the only thing that carries over is some of the history and the deity system; this time, not even major previous characters are to be found.

This is part of how Bujold keeps the series so fresh. This time, rather than saints or demons, the metaphysical focus is on the merger of human and animal souls and a different magical tradition. The result is a were story only in the symbolic or metaphysical sense. It's a dynamic quite different than either god or demonic cohabitation; rather than the distinct feeling of "other" inside, this cohabitation is more a blending and change of personal identity. Combined with the new political situation, new characters, and fresh local history, this means a fresh new story that shares with previous books only the excellent gods.

Those gods are, once again, the highlight of the book. Bujold handles power levels and divine intervention remarkably well. The gods are enigmatic and stay largely out of the story, but the small points of intervention carry plenty of wonder. They're also quite focused on theological problems, enough that there is an interesting contrast at times between the political and temporal problems of the characters and the metaphysical problems the gods are pushing them to address. The conclusion is beautiful, bringing the characters face to face with divine glory while still making their actions significant and never making the main characters feel irrelevant in their own story. And by looking at new themes and new characters, Bujold avoids the normal power escalation in a fantasy series and tells another story about humans, not demigods.

Bujold has an irreverant tone that will be familiar to readers of her other books but which can take some getting used to. Sometimes it borders on flippant and there are frequent moments of near-slapstick. It didn't break the mood of the story for me, but it is unusual. I can see how it might for some. On the other hand, it's a nice change of pace from the emotional significance much epic fantasy tries to write into every page. It is certainly distinctive, and combined with a viewpoint protagonist who's always turning things over in his head, asking himself questions, and reacting with dark humor, it creates a feeling of half-terrifying, half-bemused adventure that I found quite engrossing.

Once again, the story is told in a tight third person perspective that's admirable in its technical mastery. Ingrey is the viewpoint character for every word of the book; the reader is privy to only his thoughts, never knows anything he doesn't know, and is never pulled out of his head. This may sound like a minor detail, but this sort of invisible competence is what makes The Hallowed Hunt so consistently readable and comfortable. It's not the sort of book where the reader has to struggle to understand what's going on; rather, despite complex political intrigue mixed with metaphysics, a love story, symbolic struggles, a fair bit of invented history, and a large cast of supporting characters, the story always feels clear and comprehensible. It starts a bit slow, and Ingrey's uncertainties can be a touch frustrating until the story hits its stride, but it flows admirably well and by the end all the scattered pieces of the puzzle come together with a satisfying click.

Paladin of Souls is still my favorite of this series — I love the Bastard more than the other gods and despite some appearances here there's more of him in Paladin — but for a third book in a series, this is excellent. As a confident, page-turning fantasy that avoids being just another map quest, I recommend it; if you liked the earlier Chalion books, I recommend it even more strongly. Bujold is good at this.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2005-12-27

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21