Representation: Minor nonbinary characters
Genres: Secondary World Fantasy
Stephen’s god died on the longest day of the year…
Three years later, Stephen is a broken paladin, living only for the chance to be useful before he dies. But all that changes when he encounters a fugitive named Grace in an alley and witnesses an assassination attempt gone wrong. Now the pair must navigate a web of treachery, beset on all sides by spies and poisoners, while a cryptic killer stalks one step behind…
From the Hugo and Nebula Award winning author of Swordheart and The Twisted Ones comes a saga of murder, magic, and love on the far side of despair.
~a pet civet (think a weasel but EVEN CUTER)
~perfumes that are definitely Not Poison
~awkward romance is the best romance!
I have always loved fantasies where the gods are indisputably real. Where it’s not a question of faith and belief, because the gods are there. The ways in which they’re present are different in every story, and they differ in how much they can affect human beings or the natural world…but it’s a trope I’m very fond of, okay?
I have never thought about how horrific it would be to live in such a world…a world where your god does not require your blind faith because they are real and there and present…and then have your god die.
I mean. Gods don’t die! They’re not supposed to die! They’re gods!!!
But that is how Paladin’s Grace opens: with Stephen, a paladin of the Saint of Steel, going about a perfectly normal day, when suddenly he – and his fellow paladins – feel their god die.
If you’ve been following T Kingfisher for a while, you might have already read other books set in The World of the White Rat, like Swordheart or Clockwork Boys. You don’t need to have read any others – if Paladin’s Grace is your first time in this verse, you’re fine, the Saint of Steel books stand on their own – but if you have read them, then you might know about the other gods of this verse, like the Dreaming God or the White Rat. But we haven’t really come into contact with the Saint of Steel before, so what you really need to know is, the Saint’s paladins are like…holy beserkers. Their whole thing is going into a god-directed beserk state in which they can kill all the bad guys without ever landing a scratch on an innocent.
That’s pretty amazing. It’s also epically, epically bad when the Saint dies, because suddenly, the beserker state is not god-directed anymore.
This is all conveyed quickly and deftly within the first few pages; chapter two opens three years after the Saint’s death, which means Kingfisher doesn’t actually put the reader through the full wringer of Stephen’s grieving. Oh, he’s still grieving – he’ll never be done – but the worst of the suicidal despair is gone by the time the story gets going. Now, Stephen – along with the six other surviving paladins, most of the others having died – serves the White Rat, which is an awesome religious order that is all about caring for and representing the weak and poor, and is all about being Practical. (Unless it comes to a contest between practicality and empathy; in that case, empathy wins every time.) The Rat doesn’t have much use for paladins, so Stephen’s job at the moment is playing bodyguard to one of the Rat’s healers, as said healer is tending to patients in a part of the city where people keep finding decapitated heads.
And he is on his way back to the temple after doing that – having left the healer to tend to a patient overnight – when he is suddenly accosted by a woman who begs him to help her. She’s being chased by members of the Hanged Motherhood, which is a religious order not nearly as cool as the White Rat, and Stephen is a paladin! Of course he will help!
…He helps by pretending he is screwing her against the wall. It’s very awkward. She makes very bad moaning noises, and his armour chafes very painfully. But it makes the Motherhood people go away, so…success!!!
The lady is Grace. She’s a perfumer, not a witch, even if she was gathering plants in a graveyard. She thanks him for his help, and lets him escort her home, and that should be the end of it.
It’s so obviously not.
Paladin’s Grace is a hysterically funny book that balances a heartmeltingly-awkward-genuine romance with an investigation into attempted assassinations – and there’s also the thing about the decapitated heads. But it’s Stephen and Grace who are the stars, without a shadow of a doubt. They just…feel like real people. Their slow slide into romance isn’t idealised, it’s not romantic in the traditional sense. Stephen’s first gift to Grace is socks. (He knitted them himself, and they’re lovely.) Their conversations stumble and are awkward in a sweetly human way. They say silly things and sometimes the wrong things. They both have scars and soft, wounded places inside them. They both need to be gentle – with each other and also with themselves.
But it’s also…one of the healthiest romances I can think of, as well as one of the most natural. Stephen apologises when he’s an ass. Grace deliberately takes some of her internal defenses down. They talk to each other, instead of having stupid misunderstandings For The Plot (which is something I hate). And there’s…no toxic masculinity anywhere??? Even though most of the male characters are warriors of one type or another???
“I didn’t say she was beautiful.”
“All women are beautiful,” said Istvhan, dismissing this. “It is the job of their lovers to make them feel that way if they do not already.”
Stephen is super protective, but he also trusts in Grace’s abilities. One of my favourite scenes is when he steps back and lets her handle a confrontation – there if he needs her, but more than willing to let her fight for herself.
And can I reiterate that this book is so fucking funny???
“It wasn’t like that!” protested Stephen. “And it doesn’t mean anything! She might be married with six kids! She might not even like men!”
“Six kids is workable. A live husband…mm, well, why was he letting her chase through graveyards in the dark without assistance? Clearly unfit for such a woman.” Istvhan nodded to himself. “We will have him killed.”
“We’re paladins, Istvhan. We don’t have people killed unless they’re evil.”
“To leave such a woman in the clutches of the Motherhood? And her with six kids at home to care for? Bah! Clearly an evil man.”
I mean, this is also a book about grieving and healing and assassinations! But it will also make you laugh until you cry. In the best way!
“Where Miss Angelica goes, I go,” he said, in a voice so deep Grace could almost hear it through her boots.
“There is no need to fear that she’ll be attacked here,” said DuValier, forgetting himself enough to actually address the paladin.
“She might require a jar opened,” said Stephen, unruffled. “Or something heavy moved. My duty is clear.”
Stephen tilted his head so that it was very clear he was looking down at the man in golden livery. “I am also very skilled at reaching things on high shelves.”
Can you not just hear the menace in his voice with that last line? Can you not picture his face as he says it? “I am also very skilled at reaching things on high shelves.”
HOW CAN YOU BE SO FUNNY AND SO THREATENING AT THE SAME TIME?
And Grace! Oh, Grace, I love her so much! She is so bad with people and so great with perfumes, and she thinks she’s awful at sex because her ex was so very terrible, and she has the urge to say hysterical things at terrible moments, and I adore her utterly. And I love how big a role her friendship with her landlady, Marguerite, has, how it’s such a huge part of the book. THANK YOU, ROMANCES ARE NOT THE ONLY RELATIONSHIPS THAT MATTER, A LITTLE LOUDER FOR THE PEOPLE AT THE BACK, PLEASE.
Having men want to rescue you was worlds different than simply having a female friend who had your back. If she needed a body buried, the only question Marguerite would ask was, “How deep?”
Damn straight, ‘how deep?’ That’s how you determine true friendship!
Which is all to say, Paladin’s Grace is fabulous beyond words, and you should read it immediately, because the sequel is out tomorrow!!!