Paladin’s Strength, T. Kingfisher (Argyll Productions, 978-1-61450-530-3, $34.95, 424pp, hc) February 2021. Red Wombat Studio 978-1614505303, $5.99, 478pp, eb) February 2021.
Those who deeply enjoyed T. Kingfisher’s Paladin’s Grace, the first book in the Saint of Steel series, likely hit “buy” the instant they saw the listing for book two. These are the readers who know the drill: T. Kingfisher is the pen name Ursula Vernon uses when writing for adults, rather than elementary school-aged kids. They also know that Kingfisher’s romances aren’t quite like others you’ll find in the genre. Yes, yes, these two books are set in a decidedly fantastic, medieval-adjacent universe – but what really sets them apart is the robust practicality, undeniable sense of duty, and playful humor of the main characters.
Paladin’s Grace concerned itself with Stephen, a paladin whose god ceased to exist. With him in his journey were compatriots Istvhan and Galen. While Stephen’s name pops up in Paladin’s Strength, this is Istvhan’s story. He’s on a mission and, one day, someone gives him a woman. Her name is Clara and, well, it’s kind of a long story how she would up in a position to be a gift. That sets them on an adventure that involves zombies, bears, and acorns (oh my), as well as secrets and quests.
Admittedly, Vernon’s work isn’t for everyone, just like no one’s work is for everyone. But if you are a fan, all that drew you in is here, too. No matter how dark the story gets, there remains an underlying optimism. Even when it’s dark, light still exists. And even when that light seems about to go out, there is banter. Like this bit, between Istvhan and Clara, after she suggested he chop a limb from a tree with his sword.
“Why do men get so defensive about their swords?”
“They’re remarkably fragile when not in use.”
Clara gave him a look. He gave it right back to her. “What?”
Even in the darkest of times, there is always a place for a penis joke in Vernon’s world. That, for me at least, makes her world one I want to visit as often as I can.
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 June 2021 issue of Locus.
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