The Hallowed Hunt
by Lois McMaster Bujold
Review by EJ McClure
Eos Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0060574623
Date: 01 June, 2005 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
In The Hallowed Hunt Bujold has crafted one of her best books in years. She returns us to the complex, vivid world of Chalion, scene of both the Hugo-winning Paladin of Souls and the earlier Curse of Chalion. While the novels share a common universe, they are not a trilogy in the conventional sense of sharing a plot; each can be read and enjoyed independently, so if you?ve missed the first two, don?t let that stop you from heading out to pick up your copy of The Hallowed Hunt. It?s a ripping good read, with all the usual Bujold hallmarks: red-blooded characters, smashing action, witty dialogue, and best of all, a marvelously twisty plot full of surprises.
The narrative character, Lord Ingry kin Wolfcliff, is a complex soul burdened by a dark history and a stubborn determination to do the right thing. He may at times be the unwitting pawn of men more devious than himself, or of the gods, but he doggedly refuses to give up, even when surrender seems the prudent option. His facility for adapting in adversity earned him a place in the Royal Sealmaster?s retinue. A place in the shadows, perhaps, as the disinherited and somewhat disreputable scion of a lesser kindred, but that?s just the place for an agent whose unusual talents have earned him a reputation as the sort of man for delicate and dangerous work, work that you would prefer be done in the shadows.
So Ingry is the one dispatched to Prince Boleso?s remote country exile to investigate the Prince?s death and to take the murderer into custody. Upon surveying the gory scene, Ingry reluctantly concludes that Boleso had been attempting to perform a magical ritual of the Old Weald through which a man may take into himself the soul of an animal. A ritual fatally disrupted by the unwillingness of the sacrificial virgin. Lady Ijada?s spirited but na?ve defense of her actions engages both Ingry?s curiosity and his sympathy. He finds himself very much afraid of what will happen to this bold and honest young woman once he delivers her to the King?s justiciars and the Temple inquirers at Easthome, for her actions have nullified complex secret plots being laid by powerful men in anticipation of the death of the aging hallow king. But he knows his duty: escort the Prince?s body back to Easthome for a state funeral, and deliver the murderer to justice.
Along the road, Ingry finds his task is more complicated than he imagined, for Ijada?s presence rouses in him a dark compulsion to violence. At first Ingry takes it for the resurgence of his wolf-within, a grim legacy he thought he had successfully bound to the confines of memory. After his third attempt on Ijada?s life, he can no longer pretend his malady is anything so simple. The growing respect and affection he feels for Ijada compel him to tell her the truth: he is under a geas whose malevolent aim seems to be Ijada?s death. In return, Ijada tells him the truth; she did not, after all, escape Boleso?s rite quite unscathed. She bears not only the soul of the leopard slain in Boleso?s perverted rite, but also a growing sense of responsibility for an army that perished ages ago at Bloodfield, where the Darcarthan forces crushed the last stand of the shamans and spirit-warriors of the Old Weald. Thus bound by magic, Ingry and Ijada realize that their best hope of survival lies in joining forces to unravel the ancient mystery that has overshadowed their lives.
Fortunately, they are not entirely alone in their desperate quest. Bujold shows her usual skill at assembling a great supporting cast: Hallana, whose wry humor and zest for living large are matched only by her formidable talent as a Temple sorceress; the Learned Lewko, a scholarly one-time saint; the forthright and likeable Prince Biast, and the enigmatic Lord Wencel, Earl Horseriver, heir of the Old Weald and contender for the hallow king?s title. The five gods of Chalion also have their roles to play, but the center stage is left to Ingry and Ijada, who must figure out how to right a centuries-old evil done by a desperate man driven mad by love, grief, and despair.
Bujold does a splendid job weaving together fantasy, mystery and love in a novel of high adventure, making The Hallowed Hunt the best of the Chalion novels to date.