Lois McMaster Bujold’s Chalion series of medieval fantasy based on historical Spain is comprised of three books (The Curse of Chalion, The Paladin of Souls, and The Hallowed Hunt) and some novellas (haven’t read these yet) all set in the same world. They all stand alone, which is notable as I’ve been reading a lot of first-book-in-a-series lately, and it was so nice to read something with an actual beginning, middle, and ending. It was also wonderful to read something with active, capable characters who could keep up with the implication of events in their own world and actually even beat me to figuring some things out. Bujold’s writing is a delight and her characters are real, flawed people who are easy to root for. The world also feels very real, too, likely bolstered by the fact that, unlike a lot of the YA fantasy we’ve done, it doesn’t carefully tiptoe around things like the existence of homosexuality and abortion or the consequences of rape and war.
Also!!! Paladin of Souls has a character who’s fat but it’s not a character flaw!!! I’ve literally never seen this in a fantasy novel before, the only time his weight comes up as anything but a neutral physical descriptor is toward the end where it’s noted that after some times trapped under siege he’s thinner and it’s sad because it shows how much he’s been through.
Oddly, this series seems to get sold as romance, which is weird because it’s… not. Especially for medieval fantasy where who-marries-who court-style stuff is usually a big focus, it lacked romance. It’s really weird, kind of the opposite of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which was sold as straight fantasy but was actually romantic fantasy.
Also, as a final pre-jump aside, despite these being excellent fantasy, Bujold is actually known for her space opera series, to the point that it got her a lifetime achievement award at last year’s Hugos, and if you follow the sidebar, you may know space opera bores me to tears. I’d be curious to hear if any fans of the genre are familiar with her series.