Paladin's Hope by T. Kingfisher (The Saint of Steel #3)
Piper is a lich-doctor, a physician who works among the dead, determining causes of death for the city guard's investigations. It's a peaceful, if solitary profession…until the day when he's called to the river to examine the latest in a series of mysterious bodies, mangled by some unknown force.
Galen is a paladin of a dead god, lost to holiness and no longer entirely sane. He has long since given up on any hope of love. But when the two men and a brave gnole constable are drawn into the web of the mysterious killer, it's Galen's job to protect Piper from the traps that await them.
He's just not sure if he can protect Piper from the most dangerous threat of all…
TITLE: Paladin's Hope
AUTHOR: T. Kingfisher
PUBLISHER: Red Wombat Studio
LENGTH: 300 pages
GENRE: Fantasy, Romance
General Vibe: Book1 with Book2
Queer Rep Summary: Gay/Achillean Main Character(s), Trans Minor Character(s).
PALADIN'S HOPE features Galen, one of the paladins of the (now dead) Saint of Steel. He appears in the first two books in the series but now gets a story of his own. The main story is entirely new, as Earstripe the guard-gnole requests that Galen and the lich-doctor, Piper, help him find out the cause of several mysterious and violent deaths (which are both introduced and resolved). Very late in the book I figured out that this wraps up some things left hanging from other White Rat books, not just the first two Saint of Steel books (though it does that as well). The epilogue, in particular, exists to show the state of Galen and Piper's relationship some time after the main story, and to continue the underlying thread of the death of the Saint of Steel. It leaves the book on a bit of a cliffhanger, but one related to the general course of the series and not to the central plot of the book.
Galen and Piper are both new narrators, though Galen is consistent with his previous appearances as a secondary character. The main story would make sense for someone who started here without reading the rest of the series or any other White Rat books, but the epilogue in particular will make much more sense for someone who has read the first two books. There's a pretty cool character detail to delight anyone who read THE WONDER ENGINE, and the return of a couple of characters who first appeared in SWORDHEART, but these connections aren't necessary for understanding most of the book. It is the strongest entry in the ongoing thread of greater understanding between gnoles and humans, or at least between some specific gnoles and a few humans. Until now it seems like gnoles have been doing most of the understanding, so it's nice to see things start to shift.
The worldbuilding focuses on gnole/human interactions and the details of the place where they find themselves. It's a character-focused story, but the setting is specific and growing more detailed with each new entry in the White Rat books.
Galen is a brooding paladin, but a very different flavor of one from either Stephen or Istvhan. He has nightmares which can trigger the battle-tide if he's touched in his sleep. The warning that Galen should not be touched in his slumber has been consistent in the series so far, and now we get his side of that burden. Piper works with the dead, a profession which most people find distasteful. The pace of their relationship has an entirely different flavor from the first two books. It takes place over a fairly short period of time, with the main action confined to a day or two. The restricted but fascinating setting acts as a crucible where Galen, Piper, and Earstripe spend a lot of time together under very stressful circumstances. They don't have quite as much trouble figuring out whether that the other person is interested (at least not for long), but are trying to figure out whether this is a fling or if it can be something more long-term once they're not in mortal danger.
I enjoyed the different pace of this one and am excited for more entries in the series.
Graphic/Explicit CW for sexual content, mental illness, blood, gore, violence, injury detail, medical content, medical trauma, death.
Moderate CW for racism, alcohol, murder, child death.
Minor CW for ableist language, panic attacks/disorders, pregnancy, suicidal thoughts, fire, torture, slavery, parental death.