books

T. Kingfisher aka Ursula Vernon

Books

The Saint of Steel: Paladin’s Grace (2020), Paladin’s Strength (2021), Paladin’s Hope (2021)

Digger, Swordheart (2018), Minor Mage (2019), A Wizard’s Guide To Defensive Baking (2020)

 

Swordheart (2018)


Swordheart

Halla is a housekeeper who has suddenly inherited her great-uncle’s estate… and, unfortunately, his relatives. Sarkis is an immortal swordsman trapped in a prison of enchanted steel. When Halla draws the sword that imprisons him, Sarkis finds himself attempting to defend his new wielder.

“Begin asking unexpected questions until everyone in the conversation starts doubting their senses. It’s a talent. Like some strange form of diplomacy that goes so far in the wrong direction that it comes out the other side.”

One of the grimmer realizations of Sarkis’s youth had been the discovery that knowing you were being an ass did not actually stop you from continuing to be an ass.

Publisher : Red Wombat Studio
Rating: 8/10

 

Minor Mage (2019)

Minor MageOliver is a minor mage. He might become more powerful, because he’s only twelve, but right now he only has three spells.

Unfortunately, the town has decided that he must go to the mountains to fetch the rain, before the drought ruins everyone.

Of course, the townspeople waited until Oliver’s mother–the retired mercenary–was out of town to tell him he needed to go.

There is something about a group of people that is less than the sum of its parts. Few individuals in the crowd would have dreamed of putting a kid— even a kid who was also a mage— onto the road and telling him to bring back rain. And yet when they were all together, somehow the conversation had gotten more and more heated and more and more stern and what had been a vague idea became an order, and suddenly something slightly less than a mob but rather more than a friendly gathering of neighbors had arrived at the doorstep of Oliver’s house.

So Oliver takes his familiar and sets off, meeting interesting people along the way.

“Why would she want to wander around it, anyway?” asked Oliver.

“Song doesn’t say,” said Trebastion. “But I figure she’s mad at getting burned alive.”

“Or at having married an arsonist,” said the armadillo dryly.

Oliver is sweet and lovely and I love that he’s at that awkward age where he might be sometimes able to think like an adult but is still very much a kid. Which allowed her to point out some things that often happen in fantasy books but are just glossed over.

Oh god what have I done oh god I brought the ghuls on them they’re dying some of them are dead I didn’t mean for this I knew it would happen, but I didn’t know what it would be like

It’s fascinating, really, how easily so much violence is glossed over in fantasy.

Also, there is lots of the wit I’d expected.

“Oh, herbs,” said the bandit, in the dismissive tone used by people who don’t know anything about herbs.

(This is generally not a very wise thing to say, because people who do know about herbs may take offense, and you will then find your socks stuffed full of stinging nettles and your tea full of cascara, which is no less potent a laxative for being tree bark.)

All in all, a lovely escape.

Publisher: Red Wombat Studio
Rating: 8/10


The Saint of Steel

 

Paladin’s Grace (2020)

Paladin's GraceStephen was a paladin for the Saint of Steel until that god died, and all his paladins went mad.

The remaining seven paladins now serve the Rat, in gratitude for taking them in and giving them some purpose.

The Rat’s priests fixed things that could be fixed, and when things were broken past all mending, they helped people pick up the pieces.

But their god is still dead, and the berserker tide is still within them.

Grace is a perfume. She arrived in the city with nothing, and built up a business, and now she has been requested to create a perfume for the visiting prince.

Leather, metal, gingerbread. Soap. Warm skin. It had been a good scent. And there was just no way to reproduce it. You couldn’t distill skin.

Well, maybe you could, but the authorities would frown on it.

First and foremost, I adore Stephen.

He wished that he could break out his knitting, but for some reason, people didn’t take you seriously as a warrior when you were knitting. He’d never figured out why. Making socks required four or five double-ended bone needles.

Stephen and all the other paladins.

“Istvhan, you ever kill someone with an ice swan?” he whispered.

“I clubbed someone unconscious with a frozen goose once. That’s similar?”

The Bishop suffered a mysterious coughing fit.

“No, you had to use the goose as a bludgeon, didn’t you? For the swan, I figure you’d snap the head off and try to stab with the neck.”

“Hmmm…” Istvhan eyed the ice sculpture speculatively. “It’s pretty big. And not well balanced.”

“I figure you’d have to go two-handed with it.”

“I think I’d grab one of the candelabras instead. Some of those are nice and heavy.”

“Far too unwieldy. I could take you apart with the ice swan while you were still trying to get the candelabra off the ground.”

How could I not love that?

I adored the world building: the paladins, Beartongue the bishop, the perfumery, and the paladins.

Stephen sighed and took refuge in ritual. “Shrive me, brother, for my heart is heavy.”

There is a romance here, between Grace and Stephen, but I found that the least interesting part of the story.

I definitely wanted more time with the paladins. And Beartongue. And Zale, solicitor-sacrosanct from the Temple of the Rat.

Publisher : Red Wombat Studio
Rating: 8.5/10

Paladin’s Strength (2021)

Paladin's StrengthIstvhan is a Paladin of a dead god. When the Saint of Steel died, every paladin went mad, sub-coming to battle rage, and only a few survived the madness. Those who were left went on to work for the Temple of the White Rat, assisting as they can.

She narrowed her eyes, studying him thoughtfully. “No, no, I see what it is. You see a hurt you think you can heal. It’s like paladin catnip, isn’t it?”

That blow was so precise that Istvhan was surprised he wasn’t bleeding,

Clara was kidnapped with her sisters, and is now seeking out any nuns who might have survived. She ends up with Istvhan after an incident with the group that nursed her back to health.

She had spoken so blithely about escaping her captors and traveling by night. His first thought had been that such things were a great deal more difficult than civilians thought.

Each has a secret they are desperate to keep, for fear of what will happen when if that secret gets out.

What is best about these two characters is how they snipe at each other…

“Do you have a name?” he asked.

“I do. Do you?”

His lips twitched. “Yes?”

“Excellent. We are both named beings.”

…and how they try to remain honest while keeping their secrets.

“Would it be okay with you if we just agree that we’re both sorry and then skip to the bit where we’ve forgiven each other and stopped feeling awkward about it?”

Also, there are some delightful characters who appear and then disappear. Such as this little old lady who feels she needs to look out for Clara.

“You will treat her well.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“You will not beat her.”

“No! Certainly not!”

“You will not make her carry things that are too heavy.”

“Ah… no, ma’am.”

Another poke with the cane. “You will let her sleep afterward!”

“Ma’am, I… ah…” Istvhan looked helplessly over at Clara.

Publisher: Red Wombat Studios
Rating: 8.5/10

Paladin’s Hope (2021)

Paladin's HopeThe third book in the Saint of Steel series.

Piper is the lich-doctor (think coroner) for the White Rat. He’d worked with several of the paladins of the Saint of Steel in solving the a series of murders. Now it looks like there is another murderer about.

It was this fifth man who nudged the corpse with the toe of his boot and said, “Well, if you want my professional opinion, this great goddamn hole in his chest is probably what killed him.”

Galen was a paladin of the Saint of Steel, who now works for the Temple of the White Rat. When their god died, all the paladins went into berserker rages. Galen was one of the unlucky ones who didn’t have anyone to stop him.

The one advantage police had over paladins was that guards had no problem believing that someone would randomly shove pointy logs into other people. Paladins generally took a little longer to get there. Piper suspected that their sense of innocence and moral outrage kept regrowing, possibly through divine means.

One of the things I really love about this book is that we are told that Piper and Galen find each other attractive, but we don’t get details about their looks–we rather get what each finds attractive about the other.

Piper gave him a brief smile. He really was very good-looking. Cheekbones you could slice cheese on.

It’s lovely to not have to read about endless physical perfection. Because: whatever.

We also get to spend a fair amount of time with a new gnole. The gnoles are really quite fascinating, and I very much liked Earstripe.

Humans don’t have whiskers.” Earstripe’s voice dropped on the last word, as if he were bringing up a terrible deformity.

And I love the worldbuilding around them.

“I’m not a priest,” said Piper, bemused.

Earstripe flicked his ears. “No, a priest.”

Piper looked at Galen for explanation.

“Priests and healers are the same caste among gnoles,” said Galen.

Although I enjoyed the story, I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the earlier stories. First, Galen’s story arc was similar enough to Stephen and Istvhan’s that it wasn’t quite as interesting, and I get frustrated by the whole “I’m not good enough for my love” bit. It mostly felt as if Galen was creating his own barriers, which is a thing people do, but it’s not my favorite thing to read.

But Piper was a delight.

“Why on earth did I never ask Earstripe what his resting heartrate was?”

“It’s not the sort of thing that comes up in casual conversation.”

My other problem was I really didn’t get the ivory rooms. There were explanations, but they didn’t make a lot of sense to me. So that kind of gnawed at me.

But overall, it was delightful.

Publisher: Red Wombat Studio
Rating: 8.5/10

A Wizard’s Guide To Defensive Baking (2020)

A Wizards Guide To Defensive BakingMona isn’t an impressive wizard. Her power is is with baked goods, which is very specific, and (as far as she can tell) not much good unless you’re a baker. Which she is.

But someone is killing wizards, and it seems like Mona isn’t quite as minor as she thinks she is.

She is, as I said, wizard that controls baked goods.

Bob popped several bubbles, which is his version of an enthusiastic greeting. Bob is my sourdough starter.

He’s the first big magic I ever really did, and I didn’t know what I was doing, so I overdid it.

You’re feeling really dry, I suggested to the bread. Really stale. Hard as a rock. Usually I have to be touching something in order to make it do anything really impressive, but for just going stale, as long as I can see it, I can work with it. It wants to go stale. Bread is very accommodating that way.

I have no idea what I thought this story was going to be, but it wasn’t at all what I was expecting.

Which is perfectly fine, because it was a fun story.

Generally you have to be careful when you add water and flour to a sourdough starter, to make sure that you’ve got the right proportions and all, but in Bob’s case, it was easy. I stuck both hands into the soup tureen and tried to convince him that what the world needed was a whole lot more Bob. As this coincided with what Bob himself had always believed, pretty soon I had commandeered a horse trough and had footmen dumping fifty pound sacks of flour into it.

Although this isn’t quite a kid’s book, it would definitely be fine for older kids. It’s just a little dark, and there are some themes that younger kids might not get. But there’s nothing in it not ok for kids.

Publisher : Red Wombat Studio
Rating: 7.5/10