Book review: The Curse of Chalion, by Lois McMaster Bujold

Webmaster’s note 1/15/2016: This is an old review from the previous version of the site, which we’re bringing in as a post so that it’ll be searchable in the reviews categories with newer content.

The Curse of Chalion

The Curse of Chalion
by Lois McMaster Bujold
ISBN 0380979012

reviewed by Sylvia Wendell

Ms. Bujold has set out on a new journey with this book. This is a fantasy novel, with at least one sequel expected.

Lupe dy Cazaril, once a courtier and soldier, now an ex-galley slave, limps in the tag end of winter toward the only place he can think of that might take him in: the castle where he served as page in his youth. He is welcomed there by the formidable old lady who is grandmother to the heir and heiress of the throne of Chalion. He is alarmed when the Provincara appoints him to be secretary-tutor to her granddaughter, the Royesse Iselle. He is even more alarmed when the Roya summons Iselle and her brother to the capitol … for the man who betrayed him to the galleys now rules Chalion in the name of the Roya.

Cazaril and Iselle are soon pulled into the maelstrom of deadly court politics. When Iselle is faced with a nightmare marriage, Cazaril must make a desperate choice and perform a great task … to remove the curse that clings like a shadow to the royal family of Chalion.

Ms. Bujold has always included luminous spiritual and human insights in her books, along with the wisecracks. They give her Vorish creations moral weight and her protagonists conviction. This time she has gone further and placed Cazaril’s struggle to understand and accept what the gods expect of him at the center of the story. It is, in fact, a taut political thriller wrapped around a meditation on the nature of sainthood, miracles, and prayer.

This is a wonderful book and a terrific read, up to the author’s usual high standards. Bujold is incapable of writing a lame sentence. Her fantasy world, a standard swords and horseback setting, is acutely and convincingly observed. There is plenty of wry wit. And it will touch your heart.

Go forth and read.