The Curse of Chalion

The Curse of Chalion
Lois McMaster Bujold, 2001

Premise: The Castillar dy Cazilar, once a minor lord of the kingdom of Chalion, is travelling home. He had gone into danger and war by his choice, but was left in slavery and pain through betrayal. Now, though, all he asks is a place to heal and do some small service to a noble lady who was kind to him as a young man. The Provincara and her granddaughter, however, will soon have more use for Cazilar than he could have hoped, and his kingdom will ask more of him than he could have feared.

I should know better. I should know better than to think I can tear myself away from a Bujold book for anything short of paid work. I put off quite a few things, including more dirty dishes than are prudent, in my dash through the last half of this book. Even though I had read it before.

Do I need to say I loved it?

Do I need to talk about the brilliant prose, the unique characters, the wonderful story? The eponymous Curse is fascinating, the world beautifully drawn, Cazaril sympathetic and strong and sweet. As a hero I particularly liked his mental and moral strength, both tempered with an unwillingness to look for trouble.

There are so many good touches here, but I'd like to mention just a couple specifically, as good examples of what makes Bujold a master of her craft.

One: great use of words. Lots of authors make up words for things in their fantasy kingdoms. Who do you think 'Roy' means, as a title? You've probably already guessed the king, and you're right. Royal, also roy is Spanish for King, so here it evokes Spain as the loose basis for the setting. The best fantasy terms are evocative of their meaning, either in sound, shape, or derivation. So to speak of Royesse Iselle lets you picture the princess, without having to mentally translate, while layering in the flavor of this particular culture.

Two: great fantasy religion. There are lots of fine ways to do a made-up religion, although many of them seem to come down to a medieval Christian analogue or a Greek-style pantheon. Other authors use a dual god/godess system, but a few can come up with a religion that feels plausible but not derivative. The Quintarian faith system is one. It blends aspects of various traditions with a few fantasy strokes to come up with a whole that feels totally real.

In sum: this is a wonderful fantasy novel with a unique hero, full of adventure, intrigue, and occasional divine intervention.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book, wholeheartedly recommended


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