The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold tells the story of Cazaril, a man with a past as twisted and complicated as the challenges he faces. It all begins with Cazaril on the road, wearing nothing but rags, beaten down until he’s left a husk of his former self.
Truth be told, I don’t like the blurb for the back of the book. This book is so much more than the description given, but seeing as I typically open these with the blurb, here it is:
A man broken in body and spirit, Cazaril returns to the noble household he once served as page and is named 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 must ultimately lead him to the place he most fears: the royal court of Cardegoss, where the powerful enemies who once placed him in chains now occupy lofty positions.
But it is more than the traitorous intrigues of villains that threaten Cazaril and the Royesse Iselle here, for a sinister curse hangs like a sword over the entire blighted House of Chalion. And only by employing the darkest, most forbidden of magics can Cazaril hope to protect his royal charge — an act that will mark him as a tool of the miraculous . . . and trap him in a lethal maze of demonic paradox.
The Lady Scribe’s Review: I’m biased. This is one of my all-time favorite books. It was my first introduction to Lois McMaster Bujold, and I never quite managed to escape the charms of Cazaril’s stories. When I found out this was a trilogy of sorts, I was so excited–more Cazaril! (Except not, the story doesn’t focus on him; he’s done as the main character, which was a terrible blow to me as a reader. Don’t get me wrong, though. I really enjoyed the Paladin of Souls, but it wasn’t quite the same experience for me as the Curse of Chalion.
To begin this review, I’m going to discuss what I didn’t like about this book. The list is pretty short.
At times, Bujold uses fragments for emphasis. Sometimes they’re just beautiful. Other times, I’m left going ‘What the hell is this supposed to mean?’–sometimes, I just don’t feel smart enough for this book, and these fragments are the reason why.
So, here’s my warning to the reader: Cazaril’s past is as important as the events of the novel. When Bujold mentions something about his past, it is absolutely not flavor. Pay attention, readers!
In my effort not to spoil the book, I’ll leave a clue to ease the reading a little: Count the deaths. You may want to keep a pen and note card handy, especially if you’re reading in multiple sessions. Count the literal and metaphorical deaths. It’s important.
Because it’s important, I actually enjoyed the book a lot more on the second run, because I knew what I needed to watch out for. Count those deaths!!
Also, be prepared to go through paradoxical loops. Bujold doesn’t pull any punches, and this is why I feel this book is so brilliant. She doesn’t treat the reader as if they’re stupid–she (and ultimately her publisher as well) assumes the reader will come with the ability to do a lot of thinking.
But it does mean this book isn’t quite a cozy one; thinking is required. That can be a downside, depending on how you look at it.
Onto the good stuff–what I love about this book.
Take everything I wrote above, with the exception of the fragments, and begin my list of things I loved with those items. I love books requiring thought. I love books I can get more and more out of with each reading. There is always some little detail I miss. Or, better still, something critical I didn’t understand that fell into place a later time on reading. (If you don’t like going back in a book to figure something out, you may not enjoy this novel.)
One of the things I did enjoy was Bujold’s use of language. I learned a lot of new words from reading this book. It gives the book a ‘high fantasy’ feel, though, complete with older styles of language, which may not settle well with some readers. However, it’s not full of thees and thines and thous, not usually. For that I’m most humbly grateful. Most humbly.
As for the rest, I simply love Caz, as well as most of the characters in this story. They’re people–they’re interesting people.
It’s a story worth reading.