The Hallowed Hunt is a magnificent fantasy work that truly shines with Bujold's glistening prose and beautifully-paced plot. Lord Ingrey, though dealing with an animal animagus that he didn't want, and with the murder of a prince that no one liked, keeps his wits and his logic about him as he deals with the political and social ramifications of the death of one close to the crown at a time when the current king himself is near death.One thing I have always appreciated about Bujold's characters is that she doesn't allow them to become pitiable, or pathetic, though they usually are in dire circumstances and fate hasn't been kind to them. Her main protagonists always find the intestinal fortitude and courage to fight their way through to a satisfactory conclusion. For example,Ijada has a murder charge hanging over her head, she is orphaned, and she has 'visions' to deal with due to her own animagus, yet even when at her most dire, we never see her become a weeping, wailing damsel in distress. She's strong, sensible and not about to allow others to completely control her fate. I also enjoyed the fact that in this book, as in "Curse of Chalion" and other Bujold fantasies, the "gods" are right to hand--the characters are touched by them, communicate with them and pledge their lives to them in such a way that you see that the gods are living entities that interact with the people who populate this world. And speaking of worlds, Bujold has always been a strong world-builder. You feel as if you have lived in this place and time once you read her works. Hallowed Hunt is no different. I felt as if I knew these people and their time, as if I could smell the forest, feel the lush fabrics of their tunics, see the enormous ice bear as it lunged toward Ingrey and then stopped cold. I also appreciate Bujold's determination not to have her characters who fall in love, or are married, to get all sticky and slobbering about it. They have moments that are intimate, but there are no heaving bosoms and manly tumescence, thank heaven! Her characters in love tend to have witty banter more than overly-moist kisses. Her male and female characters, especially the lead characters, are also invariably smart, which is great because it takes for granted that the reader is no dummy, either. I love an author who doesn't condescend to her readers. My only qualm with the book, and it's a small one, is Fara and Wencel Horseriver. Wencel, though he is obviously pondscum from the outset, is trusted and treated to a great deal more kindness and consideration than he deserves. Fara seems like a bit of an idiot, and yet she is also treated with too much kindness, when her actions should have gotten her a comeuppance that was much more harsh than what she recieved. Horseriver should have had the gods tormenting him further for all his ills, as I feel he didn't answer for all he'd done. But that was a small thing in comparision to the mighty scope of this book. I was left longing for more, for knowledge of the lives of the two main characters and their children,or grandchildren. The history in this book smells somewhat Scottish or Celtic, with some Skandinavian thrown in for good measure. I can only hope that Bujold will return to this world and populate it with more fascinating characters whose stories are delineated in her sterling prose.
Next week (or the following week) I plan on publishing my review of Mary Gentles "A Sundial In A Grave" which is a mystery, and therefore not a genre that I read a great deal of. But, when I do read a mystery, it has to be, as with everything else I read, very well written. The author must know how to tell a good story. So we shall see if Ms. Gentle, coming from the SF world, can create an exciting mystery story that holds the reader's interest.