Paladin's Grace

by T. Kingfisher

Cover image

Publisher: Red Wombat Studio
Copyright: 2020
ASIN: B0848Q8JVW
Format: Kindle
Pages: 399

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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 in letting her characters 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 satisfying ending.

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 heart-warming.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2020-07-25

Last spun 2020-11-28 from thread modified 2020-08-09