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The Paladin by C. J. Cherryh

The Paladin

by C. J. Cherryh

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The only thing fantastical about this story is that it is set in a made-up place; there is no magic, other than the superstitions of the people. A young peasant girl whose whole family has been slaughtered, her province laid waste, turns up on the doorstep of exiled warrior/courtier Saukendar demanding to be trained so she can wreak revenge on the man who led the assault on her region. Girls and women are not trained in combat, it is illegal even for a woman to carry weapons, and Saukendar has the same prejudices as anyone else on the subject, so Taizu has a hard battle to convince him to train her and even then, he only slowly and grudgingly comes to teach her everything he knows. It was a most thoughtful portrayal of what a cross-gender apprenticeship in such a rigid culture might well be like: so that only a girl of extraordinary and unshakeable determination and stubbornness would break through to achieve respect. Saukendar reluctantly comes out of his exile and goes to meet what he always knew was his fate, freeing the young Emperor and putting decent rulers in charge of the Empire, even though he knows these efforts are never more than temporary, good eras followed by bad and on and on. Taizu is an inspiring character and one can hope that it is likely a culture-changing success, not simply an anomaly. She certainly won't stop being a warrior, she is always going to carry her own sword openly, you just know it and whose going to stop her! As always with Cherryh the story starts slowly and moves with lots of detail and inward thought but then moves to a wild climax. A small Cherryh gem. **** ( )
1 vote sibyx | Sep 9, 2016 |
I forced myself to finish this one because it counts for my WWE Women of Genre Fiction challenge, but I wasn't very happy about it. This isn't a great introduction to C.J. Cherryh's work, I think: it's a standalone fantasy-ish alternate history-ish story, which would normally be right up my alley. It's even a break from the medieval European fantasy that gluts the genre, based on Chinese culture and history (so far as I can tell). It has a strong female protagonist who becomes a swordswoman. And if she'd been the main character -- or more accurately, the point of view character -- I'd have loved it, I think.

I was encouraged to finish reading it, anyway, by Jo Walton's positive review. I do like her point about turning the traditional story around -- telling it from the female protagonist's point of view would be the expected way to do it. I like the realism of it, the military training that is described in a way that makes you feel it, but without detail where it can slip from lack of research. I did enjoy the world, the training, Taizu's determination, the details of caring for horses and sleeping on the ground and snatching sleep for fear of bandits.

But I didn't find the "love story" Walton mentions nearly so compelling. From the start, Shoka thinly veils from himself and the reader that he wants to rape Taizu, and that he believes it won't be his fault if he does. It's all the male excuses for rape ever -- "she tempted me just by existing", "I haven't had sex in so long I need it", "what did she expect when she shacked up alone with a lonely guy?" (despite his promise to her that he's not expecting her to have sex with him) -- and, just, ugh. A certain amount of it I can put down to culture, and a certain amount I can see as part of a character's journey, but I don't feel like Shoka really made that journey. He did develop as a character somewhat, becoming part of the world again, but his attitudes to women didn't change, only his attitude to a single woman.

Taizu is an amazing character in herself -- dogged, intelligent, brave, and at the same time not perfect, struggling with herself and with Shoka and with her past. She does have a journey, going from being a farmer-girl bent on revenge to being a swordswoman who is, quite honestly, more suited to the "Way" Shoka talks about than he is. He worries about her dishonouring him, but she would never. All the dishonour comes from Shoka himself.

Anyway, once I got about two thirds of the way through, I began to enjoy it more. As Shoka begins to trust Taizu, he becomes that bit more likeable, the story that bit more dynamic, though I could've lived without him constantly calling her a fool or acting like she can't take care of herself. Clearly, she can.

So, in summary, it's worth reading for Taizu, if you like slow building stories about military training and eventual revenge. I think the closest comparison is to Across The Nightingale Floor (Lian Hearn), which I loved when I read it. But be warned: rapey! ( )
2 vote shanaqui | Apr 9, 2013 |
Okay. For the first two thirds or so, this was a full-on five-star book. It was a completely awesome story of a reclusive master swordsman who lives on a mountain in the middle of nowhere, and this girl who comes and insists he train her.
Totally great. I love an apprentice story, which is basically a makeover story (and I have probably said before that I LOVE makeover stories), and the characters were interesting and behaved like normal, stupid people.
AND THEN, just when things are getting good, they go off and get caught up in an EXTREMELY BORING WAR that lasts for the entire rest of the book. Seriously, I read the first part in one day and the rest took me almost a week to finish. sigh. ( )
  JenneB | Apr 2, 2013 |
An interesting departure and hard to classify: The setting combines elements from the cultures and histories of China and Japan, but cannot, AFAIK, be matched up to any time or place in our world. Which would make it fantasy -- but that label usually comprises some departures from the ordinary physical laws of our world, and there is none of that here.
  sonofcarc | Mar 20, 2013 |
A solid effort from Cherryh. It was both gripping and pleasingly character-focused, and I felt that the obvious Asian influences on the setting were handled with respect. The first half was, I think, stronger than the second half, which felt rushed in comparison, but it was a satisfying read none the less. ( )
  salimbol | Jan 11, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
C. J. Cherryhprimary authorall editionscalculated
Ruddell, GaryCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Salmon, BrianCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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They were haunted hills.
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A girl seeks out a famous warrior-turned-hermit in order to learn from him and then use those skills to get her revenge.
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