[LMB] Paladin discussion questions no. 2

John Lennard john.c.lennard at gmail.com
Mon May 7 19:58:53 BST 2012


A few weeks back (while we were discussing TSR) Philomytha rather took me
aback by remarking:

Surely PoS is a zombie novel? It's a zombie romance novel! With
the zombie as potential romantic hero (and I have to say the first time I
read PoS and realised that Lois had made me think the zombie was sexy, I
was pretty stunned) and getting him properly dead is one of the major
goals of the plot. And Hallowed Hunt is a werewolf novel... I have to
say, I prefer Lois' take on these themes to most of the others I've

I've been pondering this ever since, and becoming more baffled rather than
less, I think. There's no denying that Arhys is pretty much a zombie in most
senses -- a walking dead man, and beginning to rot -- and yet I didn't think
of him that way before Philomytha's post, and still have problems doing so.
Maybe it's just that the film cliches aren't there -- no pack of zombies, no
desire to eat brains, no real splatterfest -- and that the commoner, more
sophisticated understandings (zombies as proletarians, as metaphors for
zealots etc.) don't seem to have much purchase either. Perhaps more
seriously, Arhys also retains despite being dead his capacities of mind and
will -- pretty much everything, apparently, except appetite and fertility --
so he's also very unzombie-like ; for a zombie ...

What do you think about this? Is *Paladin* really Lois's take on the (very
popular, just) zombie novel? Or is such terminology more misleading than


So (resisting at least for now the lure of naughtily nested nightingales,
from the *Decameron* or otherwhere) we have the Lady Cattilara -- young,
pretty, desperate, and a sorceress, in fact if not by design, controlling
yet also struggling with a not inexperienced demon ; a woman prepared both
hotly and coldly to sacrifice her brother-in-law for her husband ; one who
is in many ways surprisingly efficacious -- it takes god-touched Ista to
stop her -- yet has no idea, really, what risks she runs with her husband's
soul or with Porifors and the realm's security ; one who seems deeply if
understandably selfish, yet also one who does, at the last, if only with
much urging, put larger necessities, and others' needs, before her own ("let
my whispered *yes* tower above my shouted *no*").

The way Lois sets it up and lets the story emerge raises and leaves open
some awkward questions. If Cattilara were to be tried, frex, either by a
secular court or a temple saint of some variety, what culpability would they
attach to her behaviour on the fatal night? What might a defence lawyer do
with the compromising position in which Catti seems to have found her
husband and Umerue? or with her presumed innocence before the demon
intruded? Is she not just another of Joen's victims? Or does her culpability
just build and build?

What do you think of the Marchess of Porifors?


We've already touched on this, but there are, surrounding Arhys's last ride
and second death, a series of moments involving forgiveness -- most
potently, the mutual forgiveness of Ista and Arhys as a dy Lutez, the grace
they do each other and the graces they are offered by the Father and the
Bastard ; but also involving the bonds each has with Illvin ; those of Arhys
and Cattilara and their truncated, barren marriage ; and the nobility of

I remember on first reading being both much moved and inwardly impressed by
the abrupt reversal (and insight) of Arhys's proffer of grace to Ista -- the
kind of moment that in a tragedy might be called both peripataia (a
reversal, an inversion) and anagnoresis (no longer not knowing, a moment of
revelation of something hitherto suppressed), but is here a critical access
of grace, and a double deliverance.

And this (though technically damn difficult to do) is something Lois has
achieved repeatedly, the first great instance being Cordelia and Bothari in
*Shards*, and others including Miles and Taura in *Labyrinths*, and I think
Mark in *Mirror Dance*, as well as Uri and the statue -- moments when
there's an audible, perfect structural click of a critical element seating
home, -and- a surprise for the reader, -and- an emotional punch.

So ... how do you feel generally about the ways Lois has managed
(self-)forgiveness, and about this concatenation of forgivenesses in


So we come to the sorcerous and military siege of Porifors that in terms of
action is the penultimate and most extended climax of the novel. And it
occurs to me that while sieges, even sorcerous, of castle-cities, and
battlescenes in general, are a dime a dozen in the genre at large, this is
pretty much a first for Lois. Of course there's -lots- of action and
generous biffing of opponents in the Vorkosiverse, but nothing resembling a
full-blown war since the Hegen Hub (a very brief scene that is, too), and
nothing a bit like this siege comes to mind ; nor like Arhys's last ride ;
nor anything actually narrated like the suffering of ordinary soldiers and
the mass burials that are needed afterwards. These Porifors scenes were
adumbrated in Caz's and Palli's memories of Gotorget in *CC*, and that must
have whetted Lois's appetite to try her hand at a fuller version here (and a
further refraction in the dead warriors of *HH*).

In many, many writers the siege would be greatly extended, and form a
principal topos of a whole novel. But Lois has so much going on throughout,
and so many strands in play, so well woven, that stuffing in what is *de
facto* her take on another sub-genre seems almost effortless. (Bet it
wasn't, though.)

It's also another place one might ask about the novel's romance identity, as
sieges and mass-death (not to mention cracked water-cisterns, boils, rotting
food, and rampant thrush among the horses) are -not- the usual fare of that

What do you make of the sequence? If you're a military buff (or the real
thing), what do you make of the siege, professionally speaking? Or, if
you're a romance lover, do the sorcerous, bloody, and middlin' gruesome
events bother you at all?


I might have asked this much earlier, or last of all, but here it is today

Paladin -- not a common word and one with rich associations ... that it's a
little hard to know quite what to make of. It comes from the same source as
'palatine' (lit. of the palace, and used -- as in count palatine -- to
designate a noble or official wielding delegated royal powers), and its
commonest use, I suspect, is the Arthurian one, the paladins being the
twelve (IIRC) best and bravest knights errant of the Round Table, whence a
general sense as a champion. There are quite a few other uses in Fantasy
lit. (Elizabeth Moon's *Paksenarrion*, frex), but it's very much attached to
mailed warriors.

Making Ista a paladin *of souls*, specifically, is perfectly understandable
if one reads it as 'champion of souls'. But it's still a very striking
titular phrase, and yet one that must also have given Eos some marketing
qualms : I don't know if there's any evidence that obscure words in titles
put purchasers off, but I'd bet quite a few editors would believe so -- and
(barring the invented planetary-name titles) it's perhaps Lois's most daring

Did you need to look it up? And if so (professorial gleam), -did- you in
fact look it up? Either way, how do you understand it?


As a subsidiary point, I also want to mention the cover image by David
Bowers, of which a good version is available

I'm not sure it isn't my favourite LMB cover, and a rather fine painting. Am
I right to think that: the background landscape is deliberately like those
in late mediaeval and Early Renaissance paintings? while Ista is
deliberately pre-Raphaelite? And what do you make of the faces inside her
cape? Random images? or (reading clockwise, down and round and up, from top
right) are they meant to be dy Cabon, Liss, Foix [?], and on the left side
Cattilara and Illvin? I'm sure you have your own ideas ...


"From the Bible to the popular song
There's one theme that we find right along --
Of all ideals they hail as good,
The most sublime is motherhood."

That's the opening verse of Tom Lehrer's song *Oedipus Rex*, and he has a
lot of fun with Oedipus as a guy who "sure loved his mother -- his daughter
was his sister and his son was his brother". But as perversions of
motherhood go, poor old Jocasta can't hold a candle to Joen of Jokona.
Moreover, the image godsight reveals to Ista is perfectly appalling, albeit
bracketed by Lois in superlative one-liner mood:

"Welcome to my gates, Ista dy Chalion. I am the Mother of Jokona." Her hand
lifted from the girl's head, flicked out, fingers spreading.
Within Ista, the god unfolded.
Her second sight burst anew upon Ista's mind like a dazzling lightning
stroke, brilliant beyond hope, revealing an eerie landscape. She saw it all,
at one glance: the dozen demons, the swirling, crackling lines of power, the
agonized souls, Joen's dark, dense, writhing passenger. The thirteenth
demon, spinning wildly through the air toward her, trailing its evil
Ista opened her jaws in a fierce grin, and took it in at a gulp.
"Welcome to mine, Joen of Jokona," said Ista. "I am the Mouth of Hell."

Great Ghu! This is remarkable stuff by any light, and full of things to
remark. The Hellmouth (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hellmouth) is an
Anglo-Saxon image that spread, and its transformation here from a dragon's
maw to the jaws of a romance heroine backed up by a god called the Lord
Bastard is ... well, profound irony, scrumptious geneering, and hilarious
inversion/reversal, at minimum. I also really want to see illustrations by,
oh, Dore and Peake, for starters -- and I think if those could exist we'd
see as terrible an image of predatory motherhood as anything since Milton's
vision of sin as a woman ; if a man had written it the feminist litcrits and
shrinks would have a field day.

Motherhood (and parenting more unisexly) is one of Lois's great themes, and
so Joen can connect to almost anything, but here I'd like to put in place
two frames:

1. Around *Paladin*, a novel which begins with the Dowager Provincara's
death, resexualises a bereaved mother in a zombie + brother romance, and
reaches its climax here with a vision of an demon octo+pus nestled as a
ghastly pregnancy in Joen's trunk ;

and 2. around *Curse* and *Paladin* as a chronologically close diptych (or
duology), specifically so that Cazaril's demon + ex-Dondo pregnancy also
comes into the picture.

We've anticipated ourselves a bit, but ... reactions? Thoughts about what
Lois may be saying or implying about the maternal bond? controlling mothers
and the nature of achieved independence? the experience of pregnancy? and of

And what does Caz's male pregnancy riff add to or alter in perceptions of
Ista and of Joen?


So we come to the end of another astonishing novel. Swords and sorcery -
check. A good dose of religion - check. Empowered older female protagonist -
check. Zombies - check. Besieged castle - check. Mouth of Hell - check.
Happy ending - check. Seriously funny - check. Wisdom literature for a
modern world - check.

What do you think of it *as a novel*, all-in-all?

And while Lois was kind enough to give us a vignette of Ista's and Illvin's
seaside home, with dy Cabon and others being happily harried around them,
there's an awful lot in motion at the end of the book, which in this sense
doesn't end so much as cease narrating, or, cinematically, let events and
characters alike roll on out-of-frame. The frontier is cracking open, the
status quo with the Roknari mainland princedoms is going to break, Iselle
will get her port, and more stuff connected with the removal of the Father's
spilt blood/curse will unroll, suggesting a generation down the road a
potently resurgent Chalion-Ibra commanding most of the Peninsula.

How have you imagined the history unfolding after the last page?

John Lennard, MA DPhil. (Oxon.), MA (WU)

General editor, Humanities-E-Books Genre Fiction Sightlines and Monographs

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