The Curse of Chalion  - Lois McMaster Bujold, Lloyd James Originally posted at The Bibliosanctum

A shadowy curse hangs over the royal family of Chalion and it falls to a broken man to save them from the curse and the political viper pit that threatens to bring them down.

I fell in love with Cazaril not long after he was introduced. When he first appears, he is a broken man in both body and spirit. He has some how survived betrayal that led him into the hands of vicious slavers and is slowly making his way back to the royal family he serves. His restraint when he encounters arrogant soldiers is impressive. His humility when he presents himself to the Provinsara and requests the opportunity to return to the service of Chalion in some way is a little bit heartbreaking. Despite his wounds, inner and outer, the Provinsara knows him as a loyal, noble person and it becomes increasingly clear to the reader that he is a true hero, though not one that necessarily proves his valor with sword and shield. He is a soldier though and fully capable of fighting, in spite of his increasing health problems. What I respect is that he only resorts to the sword when necessary, relying more on his wits, which is exactly why the Pronvinsara appoints him as secretary-tutor to her beautiful, strong-willed niece, Iselle and, by default, Iselle's equally beautiful and strong-willed handmaiden, Beatriz.

When the ladies first appear, they are impetuously disobeying the rules and they seem to be the typical bratty princess types, but, as with many things in the book, they move quickly past expectations and predictions. This happens with both characters and plotlines, where I would make immediate assumptions about a person or the what-happens-next, only to have them step in a completely different direction, without any time wasted to get to that direction. A lot of authors add extra details and sometimes completely unnecessary words, perhaps to build tension or perhaps just as filler, but I really appreciate the way Bujold gets to the point without the preamble. Everything is artfully detailed and characters are all wonderfully fleshed out, but there is no detritus to sift through. Just a pure story that was a very engrossing and enjoyable read.

I very much liked the portrayal of women in the book. This is a patriarchal society where women are used as pawns through marriage for political gain. Due to the curse and circumstances, two of the women we meet, Ista and Sara, are seemingly downtrodden and, in Ista's case, considered mad. But there is far more to them that Bujold presents early on and recognizes clearly in the end. Heroes come in many forms and one who is able to endure should not be overlooked.

Iselle understands the role of women in this society, and she is also intuitive enough to determine how best to work within the rules to achieve her own happiness, and more importantly, what is best for Chalion. She is able to play the game of thrones, if you will, without compromising morals or herself.

Cazaril is definitely a favourite character, but I ended up appreciating almost all of the characters and appropriately disliking the not so nice ones. Everyone plays an important role in some way.

The other aspect I really enjoyed was the gods. Sometimes when a story includes gods, the gods are much like our reality: other than a few of their followers performing parlour tricks, there is no real evidence of the gods' existence. That is how it seems at first, but again, Bujold quickly proves otherwise in the form of some interesting miracles and saints. Not that these gods are all thunder and lightning. They are very subtle, but their workings and how involved they are in certain lives comes as a surprise each time. I loved the way everything was intertwined seamlessly, start to finish.

“The gods' most savage curses come to us as answers to our own prayers. Praying is a dangerous business.”

By the last twenty percent of the book when everything seemed to have fallen into place, my George R. R. Martin tainted mind was screaming for fear that something would go wrong and and everyone would die! I'm not opposed to unhappy endings, but this was definitely a nice change for me. If you do like happy endings that aren't contrived, then this book is an excellent choice.