Lois McMaster Bujold is one of my favourite authors, and I’ve been hoarding her remaining books because I don’t really want to get to a point where I have no more new Bujold books to read. I succumbed to The Spirit Ring this week, though.
The Spirit Ring is a pretty straightfoward fantasy story set in Renaissance Italy. Fiametta’s life shatters when she and her mage/artisan father are caught up in the squabbles between two dukedoms, and now she has to find a way to free her town from the invading duke before he is able to use black magic (using her father) to cement his hold on it.
As always with Bujold, the characters have complex emotions and pretty much leap off the page. Fiametta is sad and very scared, but she’s also somewhat relieved by having to fend for herself, having constantly been judged as less capable because of her gender. She’s determined and stubborn, but realistic – she knows exactly how powerless she is as a multiracial woman without a protector. I liked that her story was told in a way that seemed historically accurate to the options that she would have in that time, but it did so without making Fiametta seem any less capable.
Fiametta’s father is another great character; he’s a true Renaissance man – master craftsman and amateur scientist (but with magic), flamboyant and selfish, definitely not the best father, but still very proud of his daughter. Every character in this book is just a person (another thing I love about all of Bujold’s work!), even the occupying “evil” duke and his black-magic using assistant are just people with their own hopes and dreams (albeit ones that are not good for the rest of society), and like most people, they’re usually pretty amiable when their life isn’t being affected directly.
Bujold is great at subtle romances – usually her characters just recognize a similar kind of competence in each other, and at some point realize that they should just join forces. The Spirit Ring does this, but with a healthy addition of Fiametta and Thur’s teenage hormones. Thur is fantastic, and his down to earth practicality matches Fiametta’s temperament very well. I’d love to read a book set a couple of decades later to see how they’ve grown together.
P.S. Yes, I know that cover is incredibly ugly, please don’t judge the book by it. The current cover is better, but I like to match the covers I put up with the edition I read.
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