The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

Review of title by author.

My review of The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Curse of Chalion is a fascinating read with interesting worldbuilding and interesting characters. It is well written and I was at times compleatly wrapped up in the novel. I recommend picking it up if you are interested in religion and political intrigue in your fantatasy.

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

My review from 2015 of The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

Title: The Curse of Chalion
Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Series: World of the Five Gods
Genre: Fantasy, epic fantasy
Themes: Religion, politic, political intrigue, sacrifice

Opening sentence:

Cazaril heard the mounted horsemen on the road before he saw them.

I picked this up because I had just finished reading Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen and was reminded just how much I adore fantasy that is all about politics. Not the politics of our world (though I like that as well) but the political games of second world fantasy. I like intrigue, spycraft and political maneuvering in my fiction. There is a reason why West Wing and Spooks are among my favourite tv-series. The Curse of Chalion had turned up in my recommendations when I based them on Trickster’s Queen. It had really good reviews from a stack of authors whom I respect so I thought, why not give it a go.

The Curse of Chalion was a strange reading experience for me, because my interest in sitting down and reading it really varied over the course of the book. The first part of book was kind of dull, but I kept going because of the amount of praise the book had gotten. About 10% in characters all had been introduced and the next bit was schooling/class scene which I like. The middle of the book had me glued to the pages. I looked forward to finding time to read it – I even read in my lunch break at work. But for the last 30% I found it hard to convince myself to sit down and read. The story had pretty much either wrapped up or I knew where it was going, so it felt a bit dragged out. This is something I sometimes like but here I found it a bit tiresome, which was a shame because I had liked most of the book quite a bit.

Religion as worldbuilding

I like the way religion was handled in the book and that part of the world building fascinated me. The rest of the world building was pretty standard. Both the gods, the religious practice and the theology dissections had my quite interested. I love different takes on religion and this one was fascinating.  Normally it is bad style to let coincident help the plot along but the theological underpinnings of the story made it work here.

Character and plot

I really liked the protagonists in the story they were all well rounded and interested people with flaws and virtues. They all had goals and dreams as well as things that distracted them from those goals – in other words they felt like real people. The plot in of itself is pretty straightforward but has enough twists along the way to be interesting.

Show spoiler for plot and character
About 1/3 though the book Cazaril (the POV character) is sacrificing his life for one of the other protagonists. Weirdly I was disappointed when he did not die. I, much like Cazaril, felt a bit cheated that he didn’t get to make his sacrifice. Not normally the reaction I would think I would have. I think I felt emotionally cheated because I had been shedding a preemptive tear for him.

Cazaril is an interesting character. He sees himself as quite old, he is in his early thirties. His body is not what it has been and especially his stamina has taken quite a hit. He has been a slave on a galley and was quite broken from that experience. He also clearly has some form of ptsd from that experience and his time in war as a soldier.  Throughout the book he insist that he is quite old, and while he is not old of years he is certainly very experienced. 

Show spoiler relationships
This makes it a bit jarring to me when he end up with a 19-year-old women who has been in his care. That just feels a bit icky to me. That might be because I am a teacher and the thought of being with any of my students – even the very grown up ones seems wrong to me. The power dynamic of that kind of relationship could so easily be problematic. That relationship also fell into the trope of the male hero needing to be rewarded for his deeds with a female spouse who loves and adores him. That just seemed a bit off to me in a book that otherwise doesn’t have anything else that I find problematic.

So to sum up: Fascinating religious world-building, good characters, well written and I recommend it.

The stats: The Curse of Chalion

Published: 2001 by HarperCollins
Length: 442 pages
Read: January 17 to 25, 2015

Author: Female, white, USA
The protagonists: Cazaril, male, heterosexual, adult, x-soldier, disabled.

This review was originally posted: February 8, 2015. Updated and edited June 30, 2023





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