Bookreview: The Curse of Chalion
The Curse Of Chalion has world-building that bears comparison with Game Of Thrones, but offers a relief from the tiresome sexual violence, and is a sheer pleasure to read.
I picked up The Curse Of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold on a whim, because I have a soft spot for high fantasy. I had never read Bujold before, but she is one of the most acclaimed writers in the field, tied with Robert A Heinlen for the most Hugo Awards. The Curse Of Chalion is the first novel in her World of Five Gods series, which won the Hugo Award for Best Series in 2018. Haven't heard of her? Where have I been?
At first glance, the book does beg comparison with Game of Thrones, because the settings are reminiscent of each other. Both are based in medieval European-inspired settings. If Game of Thrones was inspired by the Wars of the Roses, Curse of Chalion was inspired by the Spanish Reconquista. Both works have political intrigue, driven by questions of royal secession, and both worlds also include magical, mystical, and spiritual forces (if you're wondering, Game of Thrones was published five years before The Curse of Chalion).
Despite the similarity in settings, the stories, structure, and character of the books couldn't be more different. In The Curse of Chalion, we follow the adventures of Cazaril, a nobleman who has fallen on hard times and seeks a simple job as a tutor. He is given a job as the secretary and tutor to Iselle, sister of the heir to the throne, a headstrong and independent princess. They are drawn into a political web of power and manipulation, with a dark curse at its heart.
I love the way Bujold develops Cazaril as a character. When we meet him, he is rough and wounded, a retired soldier, and unlikely tutor for a princess, except that his travels have given him expertise in the languages and customs she will be expected to master. Over time, we realize that there is no one better for the role: his instincts, honesty, and loyalty teach her to question motives, understand the use of power, and shape her own destiny. His loyalty leads him to the practice of dark magics that create the opportunity to heal the family and repair the damage of the past.
The Curse of Chalion is not a life-changing book. It's an enjoyable read with a tightly wound plot and great character development. It takes place in an interesting world, with beliefs and rituals that invite further exploration (and I do want to read the rest of the series). And it's a welcome relief from many of the trite high fantasy tropes that make the genre tiresome. I highly recommend it.
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