This is a masterful slow burner of a book.
Finished 5 hours into the new year, I still count this as a 2013 review, even though it’s publication will still fall into 2014. And, when I realised – a third of the way through this book, by virtue of some diligent online research – that the characters of this story would be, mostly, left behind in the subsequent two editions, I found that maybe ‘The Curse of Chalion’ was going to be a disappointment – I am, by my very nature, in love with series which continue well past a trilogy, allowing me continued access to beloved characters.
It’s now 5am, and I must say that I have not enjoyed such a complete and emotionally fulfilling read as this in a very long time.
In short, this book was utterly satisfying.
From the very first pages of the book, The Curse of Chalion draws the reader in to a captivating and intriguing world. The slow drawn out telling of Cazaril’s misfortunes, and the building intrusion of this world’s gods, make for one of the most impressive weaves of storytelling I’ve read in a while. Each revelation is released at just the right time, never letting the book drop in quality, and always holding the reader’s attention, as problem after solution after dilemma is raised, parried, and solved.
The whole story is deftly told from the perspective of Lupe dy Cazaril, once page now secretary-tutor to one of the most powerful families in the land. His past has scarred him, but similarly made him a most intriguing and fascinating character, making his every move and step of interest to the overall story.
While restricted to the perspective of one character, this does not mean that the additional characters do not take on a life of their own – sometimes to the exclusion of Cavaril. Iselle and Betriz are written to be immediately adored, but then bolstered with human emotions, quirks, missteps, and successes. The villains are suitably warped by their own selfish indulgences, without treading into stereotypical portraits, aka, Dick Dastardly or Doctor Claw.
Almost eclipsing the characters – though not – is the religion that suffuses almost-every aspect of the story and its world. No mere bystander to the real work of telling a story, this religion integrates itself fully into every nook and cranny, forcing each character to find place for it in their lives, while weaving itself comprehensively into the very fabric of the plot. McMaster Bujold has obviously either first-hand experience with religion, or is a master researcher, as every aspect of Chalion’s religion and their gods rings eerily true to our own religious beliefs and thoughts. The motivations of characters littered throughout the book strike chords in our own lives, our own beliefs, and attach the reader more and more to the bedrock of this story.
I have already started reading two books since finishing The Curse of Chalion, which I hope exemplifies just how well this book stands on its own – the following books, though set in the same world, do not require reading if you don’t have the time or the inclination. I hope to get to them one day, but I do not feel the need to ‘continue’ my journey through Chalion, having been so satisfied with my existing travels there already.
The Curse of Chalion is a must read for any fantasy fan, and for anyone who simply loves a good read.
Joshua S Hill, 9/10
Lord Cazaril has been in turn courtier, castle-warder and captain; now he is bit a crippled ex-galley slave seeking nothing more than a menial job in the kitchens of the Dowager Provincara, the noble patroness of his youth. But Cazaril finds himself promoted to the axalted and dangerous position of secretary-tutor to Iselle, the beautiful, fiery sister of the heir to Chalion’s throne.
Amidst the decaying splendour and poisonous intrigue of Chalion’s ancient capital, Cardegoss, Cazaril is forced to confront not only the powerful enemies who once bound him on a Roknari oar but also the malignant curse that clings to the royal household, trapping him, flesh and soul, in a maze of demonic paradox, damnation, and death for as long as he dares walk the five-fold pathway of the gods.
Now, at first glance this seems to be one of those books that aren’t my cup of tea. All political intrigue and low on magic. I am glad to be wrong. While there is very little of magic here, there is much that is magical in the story and how it’s told.
Cazaril comes to us weary and only beginning his recovery from his time as a slave. All he wants is a warm place in the kitchen of the Provincara whose husband he once served as a page, many years before. Yet while it’s comfort he craves, he’s not due any just yet. Set to teach the young Iselle and her maid, Cazaril finds himself invigorated by their youthful enthusiasm and wit. In return, he is prepared to do anything for them both.
He slowly becomes aware tat not all is right. A curse, intricately bound in the history of this world, has cast a black cloud over all over Iselle’s family. Both Cazaril’s awareness of the curse and his growing efforts to lift it, and the history of the curse itself, are seamlessly woven into the story, giving us a view of what happens when virtue is too much and becomes corruption.
This is a masterful slow burner of a book, who’s intricate and subtle plotting and engaging characters and thought-provoking insights into faith kept me intrigued, surprised and delighted all through its not inconsiderable length. The characters are real and three dimensional, and a real sympathy for Cazaril is at the heart of the book. The prose understated yet evocative and the description just enough to show you everything without showing you the kitchen sink too.
In short, this is one of those books that makes me wonder whether I can write worth a damn.
Julia Knight, 9/10
9/10 from 1 reviews
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