The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold is a political fantasy novel that should please a lot of readers looking for something more slower paced. This is my third try at reading this book with the first two attempts having failed due to lack of interest in the beginning. Well, third time’s a charm and am I glad I finished it. Although I discovered that there is actually a sequel and a prequel, The Curse of Chalion can be read as a standalone novel as there are no cliff hanger endings and with the plot lines all having been settled by the end.
“I can tell you truths. I cannot give you understanding.” – Ista
Being a political intrigue type of novel, expect lots of dialogue. Fortunately, the amount of characters that you’d need to keep track of is just the right amount. We follow Cazaril throughout the story. After having been through a war and on the losing end of it, he makes his way back to the only place he can call home to hopefully get a permanent position of some sort. What follows is a slow brewing plot where Cazaril finds himself being employed as the tutor to the royesse Iselle of Chalion. From here on out, he is responsible for helping guide her way through the treacheries of court life. I hadn’t expected it in the beginning but the story deals a lot with religion towards the latter half of the book. It is however done in a way that isn’t overly presumptuous to annoy the audience. Rather, it does seem to fit and complement the plot rather nicely.
The main character, Cazaril, is the shining beacon in this story. Although broken and scarred physically during the wars, his high spirit is infectious and addicting. The story deals a lot with the theme of whether things happen in our world as pure coincidence or is some higher spirit guiding us along the way. Although a bit unoriginal, the writing here from the author is what gives it a pass. It is just amazing. You really feel as if you were right there along with the characters. I wanted to read The Curse of Chalion because I wanted a heavy dose of court intrigue. This book accomplished I’d say around 80% of what I wanted. I did felt that if you removed all the fantasy elements out, this would resemble more of a real life political intrigue backdrop in that not all interactions between the characters will lead to some scheming or death/downfall of another character. It’s more down to to earth in that it’s a lot more believable.
“The gods do not grant miracles for our purposes, but for theirs.” – Umegat
The Curse of Chalion is as slow of a burn as they come. If you are not even remotely interested in a fantasy court intrigue plot, then stay away. Although there are some action sequences towards the end, this is a story that is best described as heavily dialogue driven. Being that this can be considered a standalone novel is icing on the cake although I can see myself reading the sequel sometime in the near future or at the least putting it on my to-read list. The Curse of Chalion is a highly recommended read for fantasy readers looking for something different.