he back cover of Paladin's Grace indicates that this is a tale about assassins and poisoners and creepy killers, placing the hero (Stephen) and heroine (Grace)
in a web of treachery and deceit. It sounded pretty good to me, and I enjoyed previous works by Kingfisher, so I gladly picked up Paladin's Grace and started reading.
And while the spies and poison and intrigue are all present in the story, they are not the main storyline. The majority of the plot is about the budding relationship between the powerful paladin - Stephen - and the
accomplished perfume-maker - Grace. The two well meaning souls are insecure, uncertain of the other's intentions; the result is misunderstandings and unspoken feelings that hamper their attraction to each other. In short,
I found that I was reading a romance novel set in a fantasy world. It was no surprise to me to subsequently read in the Author's Afterword: I had it in my mind that I was going to write a fluffy
romance. I am a great fan of fluffy romance. I am told that there are generally fewer severed heads and rotting corpse golems in fluffy romances, so possibly this book didn't quite get there,
but I am certain that I can write something fluffy eventually. Probably. I don't read romance novels, so I couldn't remark about their expected number of severed heads. Paladin's Grace does
eventually get back to the dramatic intrigue and evil assassins, and since Kingfisher is a talented author, this book is still a good read.
Stephen is a paladin in the service of the god Saint of Steel. That means Stephen fought as directed by the Saint of Steel; he would go into berzerker mode and become a lethal killing machine.
Stephen is a huge man, and super quick, so fighting ordinary soldiers is not challenging, even if he is outnumbered. However, at the beginning of the novel, the god Saint of Steel dies. There was no explanation for how or why a god
can die, but all his followers suffered a profound disruption. Some simply collapsed into comas, never to revive. Many killed themselves. Others slipped into uncontrolled berzerker fugue, fighting until they themselves were finally slain. When the carnage
ended, only seven members of the Saint of Steel order, including Stephen, are still alive.
Stephen feels he is a broken man, without purpose in his life. The Temple of the White Rat has taken in the seven remaining paladins from the Saint of Steel. Stephen has worked for the temple in the three years since his god perished, but his life is empty and
he continually fears that he will slip into berzerker mode, "the tide" will engulf him, and he cause grievous harm to the citizens of Archenhold.
Grace is a perfume-maker by trade. She was taken from an orphanage in Anuket City at age nine by a cranky old Master Perfumer hampered by arthritis who could no longer perform the delicate operations needed to make perfumes. Under his gruff commands, Grace learned
how to concoct perfumes. One day a much younger perfume maker, Philip, purchased Grace to work in his own shop. Eventually, Philip married Grace, but it was a failure. Philip was abusive and unfaithful. Grace finally fled, taking the pet civet and walking through winter snows to
escape to the city of Archenhold. There, Grace opened her own perfume shop and built up her new life. Philip told her so many times what a bad wife she was that Grace sortof believes him. Certainly no one would see anything in a woman as old as her.
Unusual circumstances cause Grace and Stephen to meet on the streets of Archenhold. Each immediately feels a strong attraction for the other, but is certain that the other disdains someone as undesirable as themselves. A lot of this novel is how
the relationship develops (and yes, there are some assassins and decapitations going on in the background.)
Kingfisher has a sense of humor. I was amused by several lines in this story.
"Yep." Marguerite poked her in the collarbone with one elegantly manicured finger. "I pay attention to these things. And when you talk about him, your voice goes all wistful."
"I have never been wistful in my life." Grace had no idea what being wistful entailed, but she was pretty sure that you had to be younger and thinner and possibly have consumption.
Stephen shook his head, amused. He wasn't at all bothered to be in the honor guard, but teasing the bishop kept him entertained. "All right, but why the three of us? Istvhan here looks less like an honor guard than a bandit and --"
Istvhan elbowed him in the ribs. "I'll have you know some of my favorite aunts were bandits!"
"Well, they're mostly dead. Now my favorite cousins are bandits.
I laughed aloud at this one:
"Ah, good you're here." Marguerite looked between them and her eyes narrowed just slightly. Grace told herself that human skin didn't show fingerprints and there was no way that she could know what they had been doing.
Which was nothing. Which was a hug. People hug. Friends hug. He and I are friends.
Granted, she hadn't known Stephen that long, but if you couldn't bond over multiple corpses, what could you bond over?
One last quip:
"That is very normal," said Zale. "And also very incorrect. There was nothing that you could have done. When the powers that be have decided that you are guilty of something,
it does not matter if you tell the truth. In fact, it offends them. When you are proven innocent, the Motherhood will likely be angry that you let them believe you were guilty at all."
"That makes no sense," said Grace.
"Not to reasonable people," said Zale, opening a door in the wall and gesturing for her to enter. "Fortunately, that's why there are lawyers."
I didn't give the book five stars, even though I enjoyed reading it, because I think the climax is somewhat of a letdown. Paladin's Grace can certainly be read as a stand alone novel, it does not
end on cliff hanger, but I thought the resolution to all the machinations was a little too easy. See my Spoilers remarks - but don't read those remarks until you have read this book yourself.
I am pretty certain the T. Kingfisher is actually one of those high-powered A.I. engines that are so much in the news lately. Certainly no mortal could write so many good books
so quickly. I see that Paladin's Grace, published in 2020, already has two sequels out, Paladin's Strength and Paladin's Hope, both published in 2021. Writing novels is hard. How can
Kingfisher write so much high-quality output? The Kingfisher A.I. must be running with the Upgraded Character Package 3.0, along with Superior Plotting Algorithm 2.2 and the just released Fantastic Fantasy Milieu's 4.0. Nevertheless, I hope to see what
else the Kingfisher A.I. writes next, now checking our library catalog to see what else is available.
*** Warning - Spoilers below ***
I didn't understand why DuValier was so eager to see Grace dead. He is commissioned to kill the Crown Prince, why is he focusing so many resources on trying to get Grace executed for an assassination that he hasn't even completed yet?
Everyone - the Bishop, Duvalier and the very-much-not-dead Crown Prince all ride in their carriages out to the church graveyard? (The Crown Prince said Marguerite told him to come there, but how did Marguerite know?) How did the Crown Prince know that someone was attempting to poison him?
It is a three day journey from Archenhold and Anuket City. How is possible that the Motherhood could have gotten there, found Philip (how did they even know he existed? Don't forget that he had closed the shop more than a year ago, so how could they find him?) and gotten him back in time for his courtroom testimony?