The Hallowed Hunt is the third book in Lois McMaster Bujold's Chalion series. Following on the heels of her beloved Vorkosigan series, the Chalion series has a lot to live up to. Up until this point, the series had been doing well. The first book, The Curse of Chalion, won the Mythopoetic Award for 2001, and was a finalist for other awards. The second book in the series, Paladin of Souls, won the Hugo in 2004, was selected by Locus readers as top fantasy novel of the year, and was a finalist for the Mythopoetic award for the same year. This third novel is even more richly creative than the first two books, and introduces characters as promising as those in the prior books. And yet, and yet . . . The Hallowed Hunt is a disappointment.
If I had to sum up why, I'd suggest three reasons. First, The Hallowed Hunt reads more like a detailed outline than a fully realized novel. That's a harsh thing to say of a 470 page book, but it should give a sense both of how much Bujold jams into it, and how little she provides realized motivation for the characters. Second, I think she over-reaches. Don't get me wrong; I applaud her ambition. In the Chalion series Bujold is grappling directly with age-old philosophical and religious questions, such as the nature of grace and free will. What's more, she is doing so within a created theology that intrigues, in part because of its gender balance and in part because it evolves. But this book simply reaches too far.
Ingrey, the lead character, bears a wolf spirit, fused with his own soul by shamanistic sorcerers operating semi-independently of the five-god system Bujold had previously outlined. This yoking was done when he was a child, and was meant as a road to power, but has functioned in his life as an uneven curse, testing him sorely. Ingrey is tested more severely when given the task of investigating the death of a prince, who, it turns out, was practicing dark magics in which he bound the souls of a number of animals to his own. One such attempt went wrong, though, and not only was he killed in the process, the spirit of this leopard is bound to an individual named Ijada. When Ingrey meets Ijada early in the investigation, their animal spirits immediately recognize one another.
And this leads to the third weakness in the book. The presence of these animal spirits allows Bujold's fated lovers to recognize one another as immediately and as intensely as any romance reader could wish . . . and it is simply too easy. No one could miss that they are meant to be, and that things will work out, and this section of the book is therefore too easy (unlike, say, the spiritual and political barriers the lovers must face in The Paladin of Souls).
The novel's villain Wencel, a continually incarnated hallow king who seeks to defy the gods by barring them forever from one specific blood-soaked wood, is sufficiently ambiguous and intriguing, as are the various god-touched lesser characters. However, they all seem like sketches for an intense drama that may have only really occurred in Bujold's mind. Like many other readers, I will continue to gulp down Bujold's works as soon as they are published, but this novel doesn't quite satisfy one's appetite.
Greg Beatty has a PhD in English from the University of Iowa, where he wrote a dissertation on serial-killer novels. He attended Clarion West 2000, and any rumours you've heard about his time there are, unfortunately, probably true. Greg publishes everything from poetry about stars to reviews of books that don't exist. Greg recently got married.