The Curse of Chalion is certainly the kind of book that may well end up surprise you. What sounds like just another court game sort of novel in summarThe Curse of Chalion is certainly the kind of book that may well end up surprise you. What sounds like just another court game sort of novel in summary reveals itself a lot more than that.
Bujold's writing style certainly is flowery, but it befits the setting and allows for pleasant, tongue-in-cheek or dry humor to be present throughout the entire almost 500 pages. The book has a slow start, wich might be a turnoff for those easily bored, but even the slow start is packed with introduction to a rich world and its lore, characters to love and some plot developments that pay off much later.
The main character, Cazaril, is a mean who, upon first glance, is broken in body and spirit, though thankfully not in wit. I'll spare you the summary of his beginnings in this story, but tell you about how utterly relatable he is despite everything he's been through. Flawed, not believing himself capable of comparing to more dashing men, fiercly loyal and protective, utterly charming to the reader. With a quick wit and a deep understanding of the world he lives in, Cazaril somehow manages to stumble through the story with hardships and struggles without ever striking the reader as unrealistically fortunate or weakly bemoaning his fate. (Oh, he bemoans it. But it's entertaining).
The plot has several climaxes before the finale, adding to an evergrowing sense of urgency and threat. The plot twists are predictable to some extent if the reader keeps in mind all that's been told before - connecting some dots isn't hard at all. Rather than feeling lackluster, however, it pays off in good "aha" moments, allowing the reader to draw conclusions and be rewarded with the right payoff, although the one drawback of this is a slight lack of stunning surprises. This is balanced by some mysteries that aren't explicitly answered, but certainly surrounded by enough hints and information to allow the reader very educated guesses or suspicions (none of them, by the way, are left open or ajar in unsatisfying ways).
That's nitpicking, though. It's easy to root for the heroes of this story. The villains are vile, but not mustache-twirling, the stakes grow ever larger as we go one, the worldbuilding is exquisite, the interpersonal relationships charming, the female characters as strong and intelligent if the men (if not more, in some cases) despite not being liberated from their classically weaker/more passive role in this sort of fantasy-setting. Indeed, the ladies under Cazaril's tutelage, Iselle and Betriz, show remarkable character growth from strong-willed women to skilled players of the game of thrones, to drawk from a different canon here.
Theology is a big topic in Chalion, and the world's religion is different enough to ours to avoid sounding preachy or like an elaborate mirror-setup, but the story manages to handle the upsides and downsides of faith, prayer, religion and the presence of very real, involved gods with taste and some fresh ideas.
To make a long story short: A+, would recommend, will definitely read the other Chalion books (though they, too, are standalones), and thoroughly enjoyed this read. ...more