Title: The Curse of Chalion
Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Series: Chalion #1
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Publication Date: February 3, 2003
This is part of Calico Reaction's Book Club - January Challenge.
From Goodreads: 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, secretary-tutor to the beautiful, strong-willed sister of the impetuous boy who is next in line to rule. It is as 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 all who stand in their circle. And 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.
So I've finally been able to post a review for this book. I was late in finishing it and then wanted to push it back to fit in the Valentine's day review. Anyways, this is the first of Calico Reaction's 2011 Book Club ('Alphabet Soup') and I think this year has started off great.
This is my second Bujold book, the first being Beguilement. I wasn't crazy about that one; I might have expected a lot due to Bujold's reputation as a great author. Needless to say Chalion exceeded my expectations.
The best way I can describe it is that it's a big, juicy piece of court intrigue plumped up with twists and turns. Which is exactly my kind of book. I can't say much else without ruining the plot, so it might not sound as good as it really is. In my opinion there are two major aspects of this type of "court intrigue" fantasy that makes it a success: great cast of characters and a smart plot. Chalion has both of these.
The cast is fairly large and diverse and represents people from many areas: religion, court, military, men, women, foreigners, friends. I particularly came to like Cazaril, the main character. He becomes a character to root for, which is great, since the plot follows him. I think my admiration of him came when he decided to give up everything in order to help Iselle out of a very bad situation she was forced into. I was surprised because in many books I read, characters, especially protagonists, don't usually make huge, life-changing decisions. It was great to see a character take fate into his own hands and not let the plot resolve itself. He wasn't the only one willing to do this: Betriz had her own plan, and I believed she would have went through with it if Cazaril had failed. I also liked Iselle (the princess) due to her tenacity and strength as a major political power. I loved that she didn't have a nonsense romance that screwed up all her decisions (which happens a lot in other books). As for the plot, it's a great story that has some slow points but the more you read the more you'll be absorbed into the story. There's a lot to chew on.
I should also mention that there's not a lot of magic in this book. Actually, I think the magic is based in the religion which manifests itself as miracles. When a person hosts such a miracle, they are called saints. There's also powers beyond everyone in the mortal world called gods, but we didn't learn very much about them. I heard the sequel, Paladin of Souls has more on that.
Overall I really enjoyed this book and will be reading Paladin of Souls in the future. I recommend this book to anyone who likes long fantasy books centered around characters rather than magic or action. It's unique and definitely worth a try. A