Goodreads: The Curse of Chalion
Series: World of the Five Gods #1
Published: December 2000
A man broken in body and spirit, Cazaril, has returned to the noble household he once served as page, and is named, to his great surprise, as the secretary-tutor to the beautiful, strong-willed sister of the impetuous boy who is next in line to rule.
It is an assignment Cazaril dreads, for it will ultimately lead him to the place he fears most, the royal court of Cardegoss, where the powerful enemies, who once placed him in chains, now occupy lofty positions. In addition to the traitorous intrigues of villains, Cazaril and the Royesse Iselle, are faced with a sinister curse that hangs like a sword over the entire blighted House of Chalion and all who stand in their circle. Only by employing the darkest, most forbidden of magics, can Cazaril hope to protect his royal charge—an act that will mark the loyal, damaged servant as a tool of the miraculous, and trap him, flesh and soul, in a maze of demonic paradox, damnation, and death.
The Curse of Chalion introduces readers to a man who once held a reputation for being a good soldier and trustworthy commander, but who has crossed the wrong people and now mainly wants to live a quiet life. The gods, however, seem to have other plans, and soon Cazaril is thrust into the dangerous court intrigue he so desired to avoid, as well as an epic battle to save his country from a curse few even know lie over it.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I began reading this novel, and I admit it took me several chapters to even start to have idea. It is not clear from the opening pages what exactly Cazaril’s talents are. Apparently he was a page, then a solider, then a commander, and at the start of the book he’s basically a penniless nobody—but he is quickly hired to act as secretary and tutor to one of the most important noble ladies in the realm. And all through his exposition, which implies he’s good at basically everything, he downplays his skills and insists he’s good at practically nothing. I wasn’t immediately sure what to do with this, or where the book would lead if the protagonist had so ambiguous a role.
Finding out is really half the story. I think, in the end, Carazil has more talents than he gives himself credit for (though he’s certainly no Mary Sue excelling at everything), and yet what seems most valuable about him is his integrity. His knowledge and his physical abilities are assets, certainly in the various roles he comes to play in the fate of his country, but his dedication to his country, his patron, and his duties in general are what make him remarkable.
I enjoyed following him on his journey, as well as meeting the other characters. His student, Iselle, is a bit impetuous but eager and strong-willed. The villains are delightfully villainous, and many of the characters in the story have more facets than they initially let on. And, despite the pure amount of characters who show up in the story, all are wonderfully developed. As is the history, culture, and religion of the country they inhabit.
The story is a marvelous blend of court intrigue, revenge, romance, magic, theology, and personal character development. Some developments did seem a little strange to me—and apparently sounded even stranger to my friends when I tried to talk to my friends about what I was reading. However, it’s unique and all ends up coming together. The novel is a bit less complex than Brandon Sanderson, but does remind me somewhat of his books in terms of world building and thoughtful attention to human nature.
I was a bit confused by the titles/ranks the characters had and would have appreciated an appendix outlining who was higher than whom in society. And a map would have been helpful for geographical purposes. There are multiple editions of The Curse of Chalion, but I purchased mine in the past year, so there are certainly versions being sold today that do not have one—a definite oddity in today’s fantasy market. However, these are details. Overall I very much enjoyed the book and do recommend it to others. I would also be interested in reading more works by the author.
3 thoughts on “The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMater Bujold”
Wow this sounds like a title that has to be read to be understood! I have it in my huge stack here. You have piqued my interest though. I have only read a novella of Sanderson’s but the world building and characters were well developed so I take the comparison as a good sign 😉 He is in my pile also haha. Great review!
Yes, I think it’s kind of hard to explain, which is probably why the official summary is this sort of vague “Some guy stops a curse.” 😛 But it was a pretty great book. I think I found it by trying to browse top fantasy titles on Goodreads, since I like fantasy but tend to read more in the YA genre than in adult. Plus, it’s pretty great it functions as a standalone and I didn’t need to read 13 books to get anything out of it.
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I am all for books that can standalone right now. My lists of unfinished series is shameful! I think this was recommended to me by two bloggers this past year and landed on my shelves. I just have not found the time yet 🙂