REVIEW: Paladin’s Strength (The Saint of Steel Book 2) by T. Kingfisher
He’s a paladin of a dead god, tracking a supernatural killer across a continent. She’s a nun from a secretive order, on the trail of the raiders who burned her convent and kidnapped her sisters.
When their paths cross at the point of a sword, Istvhan and Clara will be pitched headlong into each other’s quests, facing off against enemies both living and dead. But Clara has a secret that could jeopardize the growing trust between them, a secret that will lead them to the gladiatorial pits of a corrupt city, and beyond…
Dear Ms. Kingfisher,
Well I wrote something at the end of my review of “Paladin’s Grace,” the prequel for this story, about wanting more of this world and also for a conclusion to the serial killer stalking it. I got both in spades – plus hearts, diamonds, and clubs. Oh, and there’s humor – lots and lots of humor. I’m so happy right now.
Istvhan is one of the few remaining Paladins of the Saint of Steel but with his god dead, he was at loose ends. He and the other Paladins have been taken in by the Rat God’s temple and now do some guarding, mercenary, and dirty work for them. As the people of the Rat God are known for being the ones who actually do good work and deeds, there isn’t too much bad stuff they request.
Leading a stealth mission to try and discover who or what is behind the series of grisly deaths that have been occuring, Istvhan is headed north when fate tosses a nun in his path. Raised to revere nuns, he’s willing to take her along in an additional quest to try and find then rescue her kidnapped sisters. Both Istvhan and Clara freely tell the other charming tales of what they’re up to and both are convinced that the other has things that are being hidden about what they’re up to. Of course both are correct. Along with one of Istvhan’s other Paladin brothers and a few mercenaries, they head off in search of the missing nuns and a serial killer. It doesn’t take long before all hell starts to break loose.
The low key, sardonic humor in this book delighted me as it reminded me a bit of “Nine Goblins.” Clara and Istvhan are made for each other as they both know how and when to slip sly bits of sarcasm and snark into conversations as well as both being tall and imposingly built. It’s not long before they’re eyeing each other and wishing for time and opportunities to investigate that further. By the time they finally manage, poor Clara is ready to chew leather while Istvhan must have blue balls the size of bowling balls. Kudos to both of them for asking and receiving consent once a heat-of-battle kiss is exchanged (after which Istvhan apologizes profusely and does two nights of penance on his knees on stony ground before apologizing again after which Clara slams him into a wall and kisses him senseless).
She kissed him.
She wasn’t gentle. Istvhan felt his spine hit the wall and while he was used to letting women take the lead because he didn’t want to alarm them, he was not used to having a woman take the lead who was the same size he was and could possibly break him in half. It was both slightly worrisome and terrifyingly erotic. She claimed his mouth like a conquering army and he was entirely willing to surrender.
If that had been all we got, I would have been pleased but there’s more – so much more. At one point Istvhan tells Clara “I pity the men who stand against you” and that’s the truth. She is a determined woman but also one with courage, heart, and sympathy. As they spend time talking during the journey, she coaxes Istvhan into discussions about his time as a Paladin, how his world ended when his god died, the horrible yawning loss that few of the Paladins overcame, the way they slowly clawed their way back from madness, and now worse how Istvhan is beginning to question the once unshakable conviction that he was always acting in a good cause and his god kept him from harming any innocents. Meanwhile Clara deals with the horror of the attack on her convent, the imprisonment she survived, the loss of her sisters and the terrible fate she’s afraid they face.
The other aspects that tie the two together are that they are both large human beings and headed towards middle age. Tall, broad and powerful people in a world of usually smaller people. They both know the feeling of towering over others, being too long to fit in beds, having to hunch in chairs, never finding clothes that fit, as well as being careful not to intimidate people or deal with them when people are intrigued or scared by their size. They are also both subject to conditions in which they lose control of their senses and actions. Ah yes, that.
The many and varied plot threads weave in and out of the story with “now this aspect and then that one” taking precedence before finally joining together in a most awful way. The odds stacked against them fulfilling either of their quests actually increase as the end approaches and I found myself wondering just how anyone was going to possibly survive. There is awful combat, loss, heartbreak, sacrifices, and amazing bravery. Plus one little old kick ass nun.
Me, I was also waiting for Clara and Istvhan to finally profess their feelings for each other and get over the idea that they weren’t meant to be. It took a while but was funny and worth it.
Clara looked down at their interlocking fingers. “You know, you said something to me right before we went into the water…”
“Did I really?”
She peered into his face. “Do you not remember?”
“Hmmm…I do seem to recall baring my soul to a woman who said…what was it, now?”
“Oh god.” Clara untangled her fingers so that she could put her face in her hands.
“’That’s very nice,’ I believe she said.”
“I wasn’t expecting it! And I was a little distracted!”
Istvhan began laughing. “Well, there were a few things going on. Would you like to try again?”
“Domina,” he said, his voice serious but his eyes dancing, “I am quite hopelessly in love with you.”
“Oh good,” she said. “I’m in love with you, too. Very much so.”
Ah, at last. Oh, and there were some of the Rat God’s servants in it – always good to see them especially the one whose job it is to look after the pets of people who can’t do that anymore. I would dearly love to revisit this world though it seems that just about everything has been neatly wrapped up. Except for Galen. Now there’s a man who deserves a romance. Pretty please? B+