Adrienne Martini Reviews Paladin’s Grace by T. Kingfisher

Paladin’s Grace, T. Kingfisher (Red Wombat Studio, $5.99, 400pp, eb) February 2020.

T. Kingfisher (the pseudonym that Hugo Award winning Ursula Vernon uses when writing for adults) works in a similar setting as K.J. Parker. Her world, like his, is full of commoners and princes and courtiers and tradespeople in an imagined pre-industrial past. Where Parker goes heavy on the engineering (with a little bit of hu­mor), Vernon goes heavy on the humor (with a little bit of magic). Both dream up surprising-yet-still-somehow-inevitable plots and have distinct-yet-compulsively-readable voices.

In Paladin’s Grace, Vernon returns to her Swordheart world. Here we’re introduced to Stephen, a paladin, and learn what happens when his god dies mid-conflict. Given that said paladin is a berserker, well, let’s just say that Stephen has a lot to atone for. His debt to his dead brothers-in-service is all that keeps him alive.

He gets pulled into a mystery and meets Grace, a perfumer with past damage of her own. And then Vernon is off to the races and sets up a romance that is full of whimsy but is never whimsical. For example, this exchange between Stephen, who is confessing what he feels is the sin of kissing Grace, and one of his fellow former paladins:

“Then not a sin.”
“Then we had an argument.”
“Still not a sin.”
“I said some very stupid things.”
“Unsurprising, but not a sin.”
“Then she stepped on a severed head.”

It’s that balance between light humor and dark consequences that keeps Vernon’s work grounded and propulsive. Paladin’s Grace is a smart, fantasy romance from a distinct (and delightful) voice in the genre.

Adrienne Martini has been reading or writing about science fiction for decades and has had two non-fiction, non-genre books published by Simon and Schuster. She lives in Upstate New York with one husband, two kids, and one corgi. She also runs a lot.

This review and more like it in the April 2020 issue of Locus.

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