The Curse of Chalion
Lois McMaster Bujold
A man broken in body and spirit, Cazaril, has returned to the noble household he once served as page, and is named, to his great surprise, as the secretary-tutor to the beautiful, strong-willed sister of the impetuous boy who is next in line to rule.
It is an assignment Cazaril dreads, for it will ultimately lead him to the place he fears most, the royal court of Cardegoss, where the powerful enemies, who once placed him in chains, now occupy lofty positions. In addition to the traitorous intrigues of villains, Cazaril and the Royesse Iselle, are faced with a sinister curse that hangs like a sword over the entire blighted House of Chalion and all who stand in their circle. Only by employing the darkest, most forbidden of magics, can Cazaril hope to protect his royal charge—an act that will mark the loyal, damaged servant as a tool of the miraculous, and trap him, flesh and soul, in a maze of demonic paradox, damnation, and death.
I had absolutely no idea what I had got myself in for when choosing my birthday giveaway winner blind, and I have to admit, I was a little nervous about what would land on my door step. So it was with excitement and a little trepidation that I unwrapped The Curse of Chalion. First thoughts? I didn’t like the cover, and therefore it would have been an unlikely novel to have grabbed me when browsing Waterstones’ shelves. Then I read the blurb, and it was with a sense of relief that I realised in my hand I had a swords ‘n’ sorcery tale with a dollop of political intrigue. Happier, I settled down to read.
The novel’s hero is Cazaril, a man broken in body, but not in spirit. Forced to endure slavery as a result of political deceptiveness he is now a free man, but without a job, a home or a purpose. So he journeys back to the scene of his youthful employment, hoping that the family he once served will allow him to serve them again. Little does he, or indeed they, know the depths to which he will end up serving them.
Cazaril is a wonderful lead character – a gentleman in the true sense of the word, but still very much a man. He possesses an enormous depth of life experience, yet is still only in his 30s, making him the perfect choice to tutor and guide the novel’s equivalent of a princess. His delight in the simple pleasures of life – good food, good wine, and a good bed – are thoroughly endearing, and ensure that the reader always knows for whom they are championing.
The author has a languid style of writing that builds worlds and characters alike without ever appearing ponderous. She also introduced me to several new words (peculator and flensed, anyone!?!), which is a feat in itself after however many thousands of books I have read! All in all this was a thoroughly enjoyable read, and it was also a pleasure to have the whole story in one well-paced novel (another book in this world was published 7 years after The Curse of Chalion, but stars a different character). Whilst I do like getting to know characters over the course of a series, sometimes it is just nice to know the story is over and done with.
One for fans of Fiona McIntosh (particularly with the references to Gods and Goddesses) and Karen Miller, 8 out of 10.