Suzannah's Reviews > The Curse of Chalion

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
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really liked it
bookshelves: fantasy, rating-r

This was quite a read. The first quarter-to-third, I found quite slow-moving. But then things really started to happen. This is one of those books where things keep getting enjoyably worse, until you're gulping the book down with no idea what's going to happen next.

Things I liked:
- the setting!!! Ahh! This is a very medieval/Renaissance-Spain-inspired fantasy world, which I thought was just the coolest thing, and gave the world a very distinct feel to the stock-standard northern European setting. I don't know a huge amount about the history of Spain, or I'm sure I would have recognised a lot more really neat historical references, but as is, you've got the arid terrain and hot climate; the Spanish-inspired names and places; the multiple little kingdoms having alliances and wars; the neighbouring people with a differing religion; and a plot that eventually turns into something just like the real historical marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella. And maybe there was a reference to Juana the Mad? I don't know? But it was very, very fun.
- the fictional religion! This was just such a detailed and clever bit of worldbuilding that was so convincingly analogous to the actual religion of medieval/Renaissance Spain in some fun ways, plus it gave the book lots of opportunities to talk about religion and faith in general in some ways that were very resonant (as well as to pull off a stonking great coincidental plot twist in a way that made perfect sense and was beautiful and providential). I don't know Bujold's personal beliefs and I suspect there would be huge points of theological difference between us anyway, but it seemed like the kind of book that would have to have been written by a person of some kind of faith.
- the protagonist! Both the Bujold books I've read hitherto have featured protagonists in their thirties and up, mature, self-controlled characters of great competence and ability (not that the sixteen-year-old deuteragonist of this book is incompetent, at all). Cazaril makes a wonderful, sympathetic hero, an ex-soldier who is both extremely good at his job and extremely vulnerable...and completely compelling. I often read books by men specifically to enjoy this kind of characterisation, so hats off to Bujold for doing it so well.
- the heart of this story! It's not that this story doesn't have a romance in it - it has two - but both of them are significantly not the most compelling thing in the book. Don't get me wrong, I love how a good romance can raise the stakes for a good story. But the real heart of this story is not Cazaril's relationship with his love interest, nor Iselle's with hers. It's Cazaril's relationship with Iselle as her completely platonic mentor and protector, as well as his relationship with the gods. It takes skill to infuse this less intense sort of relationship with really high stakes and epic feels...and yet, Bujold nails it.

Things I didn't like so much:
- as I said, this book was slow to get moving (don't give up, though, because it steadily becomes awesome)
- some of the supporting characters were a little underdeveloped - there's one death in particular that ushers off a character whom I didn't understand why s/he was even in the book until I realised what an interesting situation the death set up
- mingled with a content advisory, this book is fairly dark in tone, with adult content. From what I've read of Bujold's work, she has standards in what she'll actually portray on the page, and she thankfully won't be too explicit. But, she does handle a lot of mature content, albeit at arm's-length. Definitely an adults-only book, with gore, demons, and rape threats.

This said, The Curse of Chalion doesn't seem to be a particularly grimdark book. I would probably call it "nobledark" - that is, it depicts noble people acting altruistically to overcome a dark and gritty world. While I wouldn't rush to read a lot of Bujold's books in a row, I enjoyed this one and will likely sample some more of her books at intervals.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
August 26, 2018 – Shelved
August 26, 2018 – Shelved as: fantasy
August 26, 2018 – Shelved as: rating-r
August 26, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-12 of 12 (12 new)

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message 1: by Mariangel (new)

Mariangel I am thrilled you liked it, Suzannah! Here's some more information about the Spanish history:

message 2: by Mariangel (new)

Mariangel There is a superb 2012 tv production in 39 chapters about the life of Isabel the Catholic, that can be watched online, but only in Spanish (captions also available in Spanish). The original has R rated scenes; there is also a censured version online (which I am letting my son watch).

Suzannah Ooh, thanks for the resources!

message 4: by Rosamund (new)

Rosamund Hodge Curse of Chalion is one of my favorite books! One of the very few fantasy religions that actually feels convincing to me and not just like glorified set dressing.

Suzannah That whole element was just so well done. Extraordinary.

Fonch I have read the first part and i love it. In Spain this book was split in two parts, curiously this book was inspired in the Spain of the 15th century with the Catholic Kings Elisabeth and Ferdinand kings of Castille, and Aragon.

message 7: by Stella (new)

Stella Dorthwany It's been years since I read this book, but a few parts of it still stay with me, especially the bit where the protagonist is questioning why the gods risked the whole plan by making him the lynchpin. Someone (maybe the priest?) responds that it may well be a hundred people were called to the same road, but he was the only one who obeyed. That line had a real impact on my own understanding of Divine calling.

Christopher Kou It is so nice to know someone else who has read this book (who I didn't lend my copy to). I picked up the paperback in the bargain bin in the college bookstore on a whim about 15 years ago and was hooked from page one. Decided I wanted this one in my more permanent library and got myself a signed hardcover copy on Abebooks. Bujold's prose is arresting, and Cazaril is a great character. Unfortunately the following books in the series failed to hold my attention as much. Though I did enjoy her Sharing Knife series.

Suzannah Bujold has great prose - not showy, but beautifully crafted.

This book is, I think, going to prove to be quite an influence on me, specifically in its handling of religion.

Fonch I Will read son. Indeed i read the first part of this novel. In Spain the publishing Factoria de Idead Split the book in to novels. Lois McMaster Bujold inspired in the Spain of the end of 15th century to write this novel in the kings Ferdinand II of Aragon and the Queen Elisabeth the Catholic. Although in the history there was not any Cazaril :-).

message 11: by Anna (new) - rated it 4 stars

Anna Mussmann I just went back and reread your review (I'd seen it back when you posted it). Your comment about the male-ness of the protagonist being well-written: yes! I actually assumed the author was male until I finished the book and looked at the front cover again [harder to do on Kindle than paper...].

Suzannah 😊 Glad you noticed the same thing!

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