“Stephen’s god died a little after noon on the longest day of the year. […] It had never occurred to Stephen or any of the others that a god could die. Such things happened in mythology, not in real life”
Paladin’s Grace was a book I stumbled across – much like how Grace encounters Stephen early on in the novel – entirely by chance. I’d been riding on a high of playing a lot of fantasy ttrpg (tabletop rpgs), and wanted the chance to sink my teeth into a new fantasy book to pass the time.
And then, I found this.
The premise of the book had me intrigued immediately before I even opened the first page, and then the first chapter hooked me entirely. Even for someone as agnostic as I am, I have a deep, abiding love of seeing how faith and pantheons of gods are depicted in fantasy worlds. I’ve seen gods disappearing in fantasy books, their magic ebbing from a broken world (R.S Ford’s A Demon in Silver is a good example of this), or fantasy books with no religion at all. But a god – the “Saint of Steel”, a god of barbarian-like, scarily precise, and holy killing machines – dying? Their followers left to pick up the pieces? This I had to read.
The book is engagingly written, a heady blend of romance, fantasy, intrigue, and mystery, such that I raced through it in less than 48hrs, my eyes practically glued to the page.
It follows Stephen – a paladin without a god, a towering man in chainmail who likes knitting in his spare time – and Grace – a talented perfumer with a wish to disappear from a distasteful past life – as they meet and, slowly, kindle a romance that is very much the heart of the story. Their bashful flirting and burgeoning sexual frustration for one another was an absolute joy to read, although perhaps clouded the ongoing plot (and trust me, there are a lot of subplots flying about) to uncover a potential murder the two find themselves embroiled in.
“Stephen had no idea how you complimented a woman on her ability to imitate someone in the throes of passion without sounding like an unrepentant lecher.”
That being said, whilst I love romance, and whilst this was maturely written with a lot of realistic bumps along the way (the protagonists are in their 30s) it was a little much for my taste, as I was also keenly interested in the other aspects of the book that Kingfisher merely touches on.
And boy, was there so much about this book that I wanted Kingfisher to explore further.
Whilst it plays off recognisable fantasy tropes and archetypes (paladins, priests, a pseudo-medieval town) that is not to say that the world-building is dull. My intrigue away from the main love story, I suppose, is testament to the rich world Kingfisher had created, and something I found myself fascinated with. What were these different sects worshipping different gods, each with different sorts of followers? Who were these other gods? So much history and lore seemed to burst from the page, and I am only sad that they didn’t have time to focus on it for longer. (If another book detailing these things ever were to appear, I would totally read it, just saying).
“Have you seen any of the severed heads that have turned up around the city?”
“I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure the cause of death was decapitation.”
Notably, Kingfisher isn’t afraid to shy away from the deeper, darker aspects of human emotion. Suicide is mentioned, and both Stephen and Grace are individuals who are very much dealing with and recovering from their own emotional baggage and traumatic pasts – which are examined and explored with both tact and empathy. But there is a lightheartedness and humour to this book that adds to this, and the supporting characters help to add to the feeling of creating this real and vivid world. The author does a brilliant job at exploring the city through smells in particular, which effectively conjures and gives an interesting perspective to the world.
As one example, given that Grace is a master perfumer, albeit far less sinister than Patrick Suskind’s Jean-Baptiste in Perfume, there is an amusing segment when she contemplates the possibilities of bottling up human scent to capture the essence of Stephen (such are the depths of her immediate sexual longing over him). It is sections such as this, that add another element of humour and depth to the novel.
The character’s aren’t perfect, but clumsy, flawed, and real – although if you’re prone to intense bouts of second-hand embarrassment from watching characters stumble through social situations, perhaps find yourselves duly warned.
So, if you’re looking for another fantasy book fix during your time inside, filled with romance, and a dash of mystery and intrigue, I would heartily recommend this book.