Last year, not so long ago, I read Lois McMaster Bujold’s Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls, and promptly fell in love with this alternate universe with its pantheon of five gods and its medieval background. I think what makes these books so extraordinary is the level of detail and originality in this invented religious tradition. Although only one of five gods of this world (the divine Father, Mother, Son, Daughter, and Bastard) makes a cameo appearance towards the end of The Curse of Chalion, their presence is pervasive. People don’t really worship the gods, per se, but there are religious rites and orders devoted to each of them. There are miracles too; brief instances where the gods directly influence the world through saints. Here comes the interesting part (at least in my humble opinion):
“Men’s will is free. The gods may not invade it… Only if they borrow or are given will from a living creature, do they have a little channel in which to act… A saint is not a virtuous soul, but an empty one. He–or she–freely gives the gift of their will to their god. And in renouncing action, makes action possible.” Curse of Chalion, pp. 225.
One of my other favorite parts is that the gods desire great souls, not pure or virtuous ones. I can’t find the exact quote just now, but I think it was from Paladin of Souls.
Bujold invents a very interesting god in the Bastard. I mean, even his name is amusing. The Bastard is half-demon, half-divine. As a result of his status as a bastard, he is the god of “all things out of season” such as natural disasters, murders, orphans, and, of course, illegitimate children. He’s the weakest of the divine family, but he’s the god of balance. On rare occasions he grants miracles of justice, more commonly known as death magic, through his death demon.
I’d like to write more, but it’s getting late… Anyway, I highly recommend both books (Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls). It’s not all spirituality; there’s some interesting intrigue, lots of adventure, characters with depth and development, and humor. There’s just lots of good things about these books. 🙂