What do you get when you combine fantasy, a sort of murder mystery/horror and romance with a healthy dash of humour? Why you get the latest book by T. Kingfisher, Paladin’s Strength. In the second book in the series, which continues in the same world as Paladin’s Grace, the lay sister Clara and Paladin Istvhan solve a growing horrific problem in headless bodies and murderous clay golems while realising they might actually have feelings for each other.
Istvhan is from the same order of the dead god as the Paladin Stephen from the first book. He meets up on the road with Clara, a tall, enigmatic sister of St Ursa (don’t call her a nun, she’s forever reminding him). Both Clara and Istvhan are holding secrets- he’s not merely the ordinary mercenary he first presents himself to be and she… well her secret is quite a doozy. Kingfisher is fantastic at writing truly funny dialogue between two charming, middle aged, flawed but lovable characters as they slowly fall in love. Her characters have bodies with rounded bellies that ache with age and wisdom that comes from living enough years to have regrets. . Clara is as tall and as strong as Istvhan, which only add to the eroticism (and he especially appreciates that). She allows her men to be vulnerable as the women. The fact that they’re equals means the trust and respect the earn with each other feels real.
I deeply appreciate how Kingfisher lets her characters’ beauty emerge in each other’s eyes. It makes the growing connection and sexual tension sizzle between them. Her romance feels real, especially to older readers or perhaps anyone who yearns for a story not centered on perfect looking people. The characters are not ordinary in their qualities, but their lives are lived amongst the ordinary. There are no tropes of “chosen people” who are royal or rich, finding the pinnacle of their life at 18- and seriously who wants to live out their remaining decades knowing they basically peaked in high school? Kingfisher lets the poor, flawed, grumpy, rest of us find love, purpose and meaning later in life (kinda like how it really happens) and still be funny, sexy and absurd. While the romance is the centre of the story, there is always a gripping plot to propell our hapless couple along. They’re just trying to survive, save their friends and maybe finally have some good sex.
I adore T. Kingfisher and have read nearly every book she’s written. Paladin’s Strength did not disappoint. I spent a happy day scarfing this book down like a favourite chocolate cake.