Bujold, Lois M.
THE HALLOWED HUNT [ch3]
The Hallowed Hunt (2005) - the third novel in Bujold's loosely related fantasy series which also includes The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls. Don't expect to find continuing characters - this takes place a couple countries to the west compared to previous books.
[I'll start with the flap-copy from the first hardcover, for a summary/set-up]:
Prince Boleso is dead - slain by a noblewoman he had intended to defile.
Lord Ingrey kin Wolfcliff has been dispatched to the remote castle of the late, exiled, half-mad royal to transport the body to its burial place and the accused killer, the Lady Ijada, to judgment. Ingrey's mission is an ugly and delicate one, for the imminent death of the old Hallow King has placed the crown in play, and the murder of his youngest son threatens to further roil already treacherous political waters. But there is more here than a prince's degenerate lusts and the fatal retribution it engendered. Boleso's dark act, though unfinished, inadvertently bestowed an unwanted mystical "gift" upon proud, brave Ijada that must ultimately mean her doom - a curse similar to one with which Ingrey himself has been burdened since boyhood.
A forbidden spirit now inhabits the soul of Ijada, giving her senses she never wished for and an obligation no one sane would desire. At once psychically linked to the remarkable lady and repelled by what she carries within, Ingrey fears the havoc his own inner beast could wreak while on their journey, as he fights a powerful growing attraction... and an equally powerful compulsion to kill.
The road they travel together is beset with dangers - and though duty-bound to deliver Ijada to an almost certain execution, Ingrey soon realizes that she is the only one he dares trust. For a malevolent enemy with designs on a troubled kingdom holds Ingrey in his sway - and without Ijada's aid and love, the haunted lord will never be able to break free and realize the great and terrible destiny bestowed upon him by the gods, the damned, and the dead.
[And now for some of my own comments]: as typical for blurbs, the flap-copy gets many details right, but some wrong. This country - the Weald - was conquered by Quintarian (5-god) Darthacans centuries before, who were affronted by what they considered heresy of the Spirit Warriors of the Weald, who sacrificed animals and took those spirits into themselves to become strong and fierce - but unable to be taken up by the Gods when they died. That war was finished when 4000 Wealding prisoners were masscacred at Bloodfield, breaking the back of any resistance.
The book starts with a somewhat melancholy tone, given the nature of Ijada's "crime" - to bash in Bolego's head with his own war-hammer while he tried to rape her, after defiling himself with animal sacrifice in his madness. Ijada thinks she will be testifying to officers of the king's justice - but Ingrey knows that powerful kin will be offended, and that those who knew only the good side of Boleso would think her a murderess with a taint of treason - deserving the death he thinks awaits her at Easthome.
Lord Ingrey has risen to a position of trust and notoriety as Sealmaster Hetwar's special enforcer, entrusted to deliver threats or bribes as desired, and supported by his uncanny reptutation. In his youth, Ingrey was defiled - given an animal spirit similar to those the Spirit Warriors of the old Weald had. He spent much effort to contain and bind the beast - to deserve his pardon from death by burning as proscribed by religious law. Ingrey thought of his wolf as a well of violence, rage, destruction and killing - but after events require him to release his wolf to ascendance or equality, he begins to wonder "what else can it - could I do?"
In the middle of the book, Bujold shows us what Ingrey can do - in a marvelous sequence starting with a confrontation with a Temple saint, then a god-possessed six-hundred-pound Ice Bear, and a pirate/poet/prince. It is quite exhilarating when Ingrey stops pulling his punches and becomes confrontational when reporting to high council - only to top this by having the temerity to argue with a god in a daylight vision, shared with Ijada.
As Ingrey grows into his power, he discovers that the political uncertainty and events that we see are not accidents - but consequences of skirmishes between an undying survivor of the massacre at Bloodfield and the Gods he blames for the Weald's defeat. Ijada and Ingrey have a chance to resolve the four-century old unfinished conflict...