Curse Of Chalion

Title: The Curse Of Chalion
Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Genre: Fantasy
Series: Chalion (1)
Copyright: 2001
Ranking: Excellent
Binding: Trade paperback
LibraryThing: Title:Curse Of Chalion WorkId 7337
Type: Owned
Read: 2003-03-15

All Cazaril wants is a humble post, something to live on. Instead he gets thrust into political intrigue and the darkness that is hanging over the country of Chalion.

I got this book highly recommended by others, but with mixed expectations by myself. I also put off reading it because I'd gotten the impression it was the first of a trilogy, and didn't want to read a book which left things hanging. However, I was mistaken; it actually appears to be a standalone novel. As for my mixed expectations, they arose out of my dissappointment with the author's earlier foray into fantasy, The Spirit Ring, which left me annoyed and frustrated, due to the fact that my Art History classes told me exactly where the story was ripped off from. (It felt more like a rip-off than an adaption, because the grand central scene, which does capture the eye and the imagination, I felt was more psychologically interesting in the actual history than in the fantasy one. But enough of The Spirit Ring...)

All my worries were for naught. The Curse of Chalion is a lovely lovely book! Well, perhaps "lovely" isn't the word. Interesting, intriguing, harrowing, dramatic, psychological, theological, political, soul-searching, sacrificial -- yeah! The world of Chalion is not an echo of our own world, only inasmuch as politics is the same everywhere, even when the titles are different. These different titles (Roya, Provincar, Castellar, March and so on) are never explained, we just get tossed in and left to figure them out for ourselves -- hooray, no boring lectures! The religion is very interesting; instead of borrowing from some existing real-world religons, whether Christian, Muslim or Pagan, the author has made up a new one; a set of four gods (for each of the four seasons), and a fifth, the Bastard, though the question of whether he is a god or a demon is one of the major theological differences between different groups.

But the politics and the religion is hardly the main focus of this story; even though they drive events. No, that is fixed on our protagonist Cazaril, a man who has endured much, and all he wants is a humble, quiet life with no more responsibility and no more loss. Unfortunately for his wishes, his own faithfulness won't allow him to run away from the people that need him; and he will need all his will, canniness and strength to come through for them. For just when you think things are okay, yet another twist of darkness tries to trip them up.

I loved this, not just for the character of Cazaril, an "ordinary guy", an old soldier, who is honourable without caring about his "honour" (what one might call "honour without face" -- I liked the quip about duelists versus soldiers) -- I also liked very much the deeper questions asked along the way about free will, destiny, the will of the gods, the nature of curses and the nature of "sainthood".

Sid & Nancy Scale: a sword, a cup and the scent of flowers