You guys. This book.
I’ve long been a fan of Lois McMaster Bujold and one of my long-standing comfort reads is The Paladin of Souls (which is my very favorite book if one is allowed to have such a thing) and after last week at work I decided I needed something familiar this weekend.
I’ve also been in a bit of a romance funk lately and felt like I needed something–I don’t want to say substantial because that’s not the right word at all–but something that it really hard to find in romance novels. Something that would be intellectually absorbing as well as emotionally satisfying.
So I hit upon re-reading Bujold’s Chalion books, starting with the first, The Curse of Chalion. And this was just what I needed after these weeks of re-organization and gossip and general stressfulness of the day job. Because, hey–things could always be worse. I could have a death demon and Dondo dy Jironal in a tumor in my belly and I don’t. So that’s something.
So what’s it about? It’s about everything. Just like all of Bujold’s books–how does she do it, seriously? She’s one of the best writers working today in any genre, in my opinion. Even a bad Bujold novel is head and shoulders above the field–and very few of her books are bad. And this one, this one certainly is not. Not by a long shot.
More mundanely speaking, it’s about Cazaril and how he was betrayed and walked across the country in the hopes of getting a job in the kitchen of the household where he was a page and how he ended up as secretary-tutor to Iselle, half-sister to the ruler of Chalion and, eventually, the ruler herself. Oh, and the gods.
To me, the gods and the theology are some of the most interesting things about these books. It’s rare that a religious system feels as organic and as natural as the one in this setting does and the way that Bujold tackles questions about how the gods work in the world is something I really love. Also the way she writes so openly and frankly about power and honor.
I also love the way this book is about a man who is a bit older than the usual epic fantasy hero–Cazaril is all of thirty five years old!–and about a man who has a job which seems to be boring but which allows him to really have a hand in the shape of Iselle’s character. I think a lot of writers would have chosen to write about Iselle or Bergon more directly, instead of letting someone like Cazaril take center stage. They certainly wouldn’t have put most of the action off-stage the way Bujold does–but it really works here, so much so that when Caz does revert to his soldier’s training it really makes an impact both on the page and on the reader.
There are complicated politics and tragedy and heartbreak. There is also redemption and a miracle of the very best kind.
I’m having a hard time being even the least bit coherent about this book because it really was what I needed to read and I feel much less weary as a result. If you haven’t yet read this book, do pick it up. I promise that you won’t regret it.
She dabbles in writing speculative fiction and poetry, but non-fiction is her bread and butter. She’s known for her coverage of various issues within genre around sexism and harassment, and can be found on Twitter as @eilatan.
With Annalee Flower Horne, she is a co-founder of the intersectional geek blog, The Bias.