Lois McMaster Bujold, 2003; 2nd publication in the World of the Five Gods series
I think Ista dy Chalion may be my favorite character in literature. She is unapologetic and honest about her abilities (supernatural and otherwise) and weaknesses, owns her mistakes, and proves to be an assertive but kind leader who is unafraid to take risks.
Ista, whom we met in The Curse of Chalion as the delusional mother of Iselle, is not delusional, as it turns out. Travelling in the company of two brothers who serve as protectors of a sort, a Divine (cleric) of the Bastard’s Order* and an unlikely lady in waiting, she steps out from under the thumb of her overly cautious attendants by telling them she is undertaking a pilgrimage. Really though, Ista and her travelling companions are riding out to meet their destiny.
What a skilled creator Lois McMaster Bujold is; the characters and narrative are developed so skillfully. As Ista’s journey reached its pinnacle, I heard the fanfare of trumpets. I saw the penants of victory unfurled. Narrator Kate Reading helped, of course; she brought Ista to life.
It comes as no surprise that Paladin of Souls won the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards in 2004. The World of the Five Gods Series won a Nebula Award for Best Series in 2018.
Can you read this book and get the full effect of the story without reading The Curse of Chalion? Yes; the story is not a continuation. However, you’ll have a bit more context if you read (or listen to) Curse first.
Read or listen? Honestly it doesn’t matter; the world Bujold has created is so immersive that you’ll fall through this world and into the World of The Five Gods no matter what medium you choose. Just do yourself a favor and experience this book.
*The Bastard is one of the Five Gods in this series.