Okay so in SF/F booktube circles I constantly hear the name Lois McMaster Bujold. Especially in regards to her SF Vorkosigan Saga which has something like 15 books, and is still going strong. I’m not quite ready to make that leap, but I did find The Curse of Chalion and thought I’d give her a read. I’m glad I did!
Let me just say right off that this starts out slow. It really started picking up for me about the halfway point. Before that it’s all backstory, politics, and world building. Which isn’t a bad thing as these are all very well done.
By far my favorite part of this book is our hero, Cazaril. When we meet him he’s at the low point in his life. He is, as the synopsis says, broken in body and spirit. To the point where he has basically become a beggar trying to find a place at the foot of his old lord’s table. I won’t go into specifics, but he wasn’t always this way. He was once proud, and respected before a cruel fate taught him humility, caution, and fear.
What I loved most about Cazaril is that this isn’t the story of a young man’s heroic journey. He’s been there, done that, and now just wants to relax by a fire enjoying such comfort as he can find. He’s 35, not 15, or even 18. He thinks, and acts like an actual adult. He knows exactly who he is. He capitalizes on his strengths while acknowledging, and wherever possible minimizes his weaknesses. He knows the difference between being a macho warrior, and a professional soldier. It was refreshing when so much of fantasy is plagued by young, cocky heroes doing downright stupid things.
The magic of this world was almost nonexistent, and yet compelling. Magic is preformed as answered prayers from one of the five gods of the land. These miracles rarely happen, but when they do they are a double edged sword. The gods touch with a heavy hand, and use their faithful roughly.
I also enjoyed the two main female characters. They are both teenagers, but they are strong, and intelligent young women instead of being simple, shallow beauties. Thankfully they acted appropriately to their circumstance. By that I mean too often women, and men as well!, in fantasy will just suddenly pick up a sword, master it in a few weeks (or days), and rush off to defeat all their foes in martial combat. Not that there is anything wrong with that in the right story, beyond the time it takes to become proficient, but it rarely fits. Instead these women who were raised for court survived, thrived really, by using their wit to outmaneuver their political opponents with shrewd intrigue.
The villains are people. They are shaded gray instead of being completely evil. I didn’t empathize with them, but I did understand them and their motives. The book even points out how given the same circumstances our hero might have become a version of them himself.
Finally their is a romance, and it is done exceptionally well.
I can’t wait to read the next in the series which won a hugo, and nebula award. There really wasn’t anything I didn’t enjoy about this book. As such I’m torn between giving this 4 or 5 stars. It didn’t blow my mind like The Fifth Season, but slowly built up to one of the more enjoyable reads I’ve had in a long time. My initial instinct was 4 so I’m going to stick to that, but I reserve the right to change my mind later.
My Rating: ☆☆☆☆