Thursday, September 4, 2014

Book review: The Curse of Chalion, Lois McMaster Bujold

(Yea, I've been bad with the updates and I apologize, there are some weeiiiird happenings in my life that include shitty neighbors who want to party six days a week, at three in the morning and escaped convicts in my neighborhood that resulted in a reverse sheriff's department call that said DON'T LEAVE YOUR HOUSE TILL WE TELL YOU. Turned out Bad Guy was, in fact, clear across the city hiding in a store's basement or something but still, welcome to my weird life.)

This is going to be another not very long review, mostly because I can’t think of many things I disliked about this book.

Okay, short summary:

Cazaril is a broken man; in the fantasy world of swords, magic, gods and politics he ended up on the wrong end of a political maneuver and was sentenced to slavery – despite his noble lineage.

We begin at his almost end – he has been newly freed from his brutal captives and has been slowly dragging his broken body back to the place of his childhood, Valenda.

Here he finds more than he could ever hope for; a home, old friendships and a post in the noble household of his youth.

Cazeril impresses the Dowager Provincara with his wits and intelligence and lands a position tutoring her grandchildren (I think they were? Nieces? Related, anyhow) and meets the high spirited, wonderfully sassy and sharp Royesse (title for Royal, I assume?) Iselle.

Very quickly he is thrown back into a world of intrigue, political maneuvering and a terrifying curse that lay on the blood of Iselle’s family. In a short period of time the Royesse Iselle, her brother and handmaiden all find themselves facing life-threatening situations that will become progressively worse unless her clever tutor is able, and willing, to find a way to break the curse.


THIS? This, right here? Is how fantasy should be done. This book, these characters, ALL OF IT are something that should be upheld of how characters should be written more often.

The main character, and the point of view, is from Cazaril. He is a believable, sympathetic protagonist who makes an extraordinary sacrifice for a girl whom he loves like a daughter. To save her from some truly terrible things he performs a Death Curse – magic that kills the caster, as it does the target, BUT something strange happens and he survives, albeit with a festering cancerous tumor inside his gut that contains the curse, the soul of his victim, and the demon he summoned.

Cazaril is freaking amazing; he suffers SO MUCH in this book and you just want him to succeed so badly.

I wish more authors would take note of how Cazaril is written. He’s badass without wholesale slaughtering people/villages/entire countries. He is absolutely capable of severe violence, but only does so when absolutely necessary.

He is absolutely not an avatar for someone’s 14 year old self fantasy of glory, sex and blood – like the sense I get in a LOT of fantasy books I read that include male protagonists.

He has sexual attraction to Iselle’s handmaid (and to Iselle, at first? I can’t remember, it was at the beginning of the book) but he doesn’t go on and on in explicit terms of what he what like to do with her. In fact, because he is basically a dead man walking, he swears off any and all relations with her, even though they both obviously love each other.

Need I also add that there is no Rape as a Backstory or Plot Device in this novel?

There is one character who was badly misused (sigh, raped) but the plot doesn’t make this a Device to turn the tale, doesn’t make it the only thing about that one character. In fact, it’s more merely mentioned as something the curse brought down upon her in the past, not graphically described and doted upon as some cheap shock value for the audience.

Iselle is a marvelous example of a strong female character who never lifts a sword, nor commits an act of violence. She is simply very intelligent, a quick learner and is very brave. She puts herself in incredibly difficult political positions to protect her family and Cazaril, as best she can.

She makes some risky gambles with her political ties in an attempt to end the curse and is generally an interesting and well rounded character.

Same with her handmaiden.

This is a simple, quick read despite being over four hundred pages. One of my very small gripes is that I didn’t get a sense of world building very well, only because I’m a person who loves huge long vivid descriptions and this book mostly focused on the relations between the characters.

I felt it was kind of like, Cazaril and Co. are here, now they are there, and now they are back here again. But that’s a fairly small gripe in the large scheme of well written plot and characters. See? Short summary, good book.

Oh, and, I think this is an actual series, but if you wanted to just read the first one the ending is wrapped up pretty well.


  1. Read the Vorkosigan books. Just read them. I will shove them at you once your coffee table clears slightly. Bujold is a freaking amazing writer.

  2. yea, she's pretty amazing. I would LOVE to read more things by her. I'm finishing up a Diana Wynne Jones book and then I will be ready for MOOOREE