The Bujold Nexus

The Spirit Ring
Baen Publishing, New York, November 1992, 369p, ISBN 0-671-72142-9

Rating: "A/A+": first-rate historical fantasy, set in a magical Renaissance Italy. Essential reading for Bujold & historical-fantasy fans.

The Spirit Ring is based on "The Grateful Dead", which is an old folk-tale (young man pays for a pauper's burial, and is rewarded by his ghost), Ms. Bujold's great-uncle's Ph.D. dissertation, and (I presume) source of the band's name. This is, I think, her most personal novel. The heroine's domineering, larger-than-life father must be, in part, LMB's own engineer-father, though the character is formally modeled on Benvenuto Cellini. The spunky, rebellious, and ultimately spectacularly successful daughter is surely, in part, Lois herself (or at least a power-fantasy wish-fulfillment mental self-image) [1]. Huh. I don't normally do (or like) this sort of review, but it feels right this time. Read the book and see what you think. LMB has said that the engineer-hero of Falling Free was explicitly modeled after her Dad. And The Spirit Ring is her only female coming-of-age novel. None of this will get in the way of your enjoyment of the book, BTW, it's Bujold at her story-telling best, a fine and stirring yarn indeed.

We're in the smokehouse at a rural inn:

Thur glanced up, then his gaze was riveted by what lay in the shadows above the rafters... the nude body of a gray-bearded man, close-wrapped in the same sort of gauze as the sausages... His skin was shrivelled and tanning in the smoke.

"Pico was right," Thur observed after a moment's stunned silence. "Your wife does smoke the most unusual hams."

Catti glanced up after him. "Oh, that," he said in disgust. "...He's a refugee from Montefoglia who didn't quite make it. Penniless, it turned out -- after the bill was run up."

"Do you often do this to guests who don't pay?" asked Thur in a fascinated voice. "I'll tell Pico to settle our bill promptly..."

The Spirit Ring was Bujold's ninth published novel, first fantasy novel and first hardcover. It didn't sell very well. I was vaguely aware of its existence, but I'm not a regular fantasy reader and had passed it by. Don't you make the same mistake.

Lois McMaster Bujold is (IMO) one of the most interesting and consistently successful SF authors currently active. I've now read all her novels (save the newest) and have been happily rereading her oldest, all of which stand up nicely and seem likely to remain readable indefinitely.

[1] Don't get me wrong - I like a good power-fantasy as well as the next geeky socially-impaired SF fan <8 - ))

© 1998 by Peter D. Tillman
Added to The Bujold Nexus: August 21st 1998

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