The Curse of Chalion, Lois McMaster Bujold

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice.

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February 25, 2013

The Curse of Chalion, Lois McMaster Bujold

The Curse of Chalion, Lois McMaster Bujold

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.


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  1. Barb in Maryland

    I am on my third mmpb copy of ‘Curse of Chalion’ (I also own it in e-book and hardback). I re-read it at least once a year and think I love it even more than ‘Paladin of Souls’–which is saying something. I believe Bujold once called it a work of speculative theology, and that’s about right. I could see myself becoming a Quintarian!
    There is just so much to love in this book. I keep pushing copies off on friends–trying to spread the love. You can keep Miles , give me Caz any day.

    • Natalie

      I have it in multiple editions, too. It’s been a while since I’ve reread it–Paladin is usually my go-to book when I’m in this kind of mood–but this was exactly what I needed to read this weekend.

      I could see myself becoming a Quintarian, too! And I think that really speaks to how thoroughly she’s thought through all the aspects of the religion. It feels real and not just like a fantasy version of something that already exists.

  2. Kaetrin

    I listened to this one. Lloyd James does an awesome job as narrator. Excellent story.

    I’m actually listening to Barrayar now – having just finished Shards of Honor yesterday – though I read the blurb on Goodreads and now I’m scared because it said something about “personal tragedy” for Cordelia. 🙁

    • Natalie

      Everyone survives. And the shopping scene is EXCELLENT. 😀

  3. Merrian

    I have spent most of this week reading Vorkosigan fanfic some is wonderful, some so, so and the mash ups tend to hilarity. I must say the ‘Person of Interest’ mash up worked really well, and I can definitely see a ‘Companion of Wolves’ cross over working with Barrayaran culture. The ‘Sherlock’ ones were unnecessary because Sherlock and Miles occupy the same space in any story and the drabbles can be very atmospheric and moving. I adore all LMB books (although Sharing Knife books are not on high rotation for re-reading). Reading about the inauguration of the new South Korean President who is the daughter of a former Dictator and whose mother was killed by an assassin, I could not help but think of her as South Korea’s Aral Vorkosigan.

    I think I could be a Quintarian too. I think of Caz’ poetry when I read mystics like St John of the Cross (I also think he was the proto vampire and love writer too FTW). I like how LMB not only has older and complex protagonists but people whose inner lives move their action in the world.

    Also I have an autographed by LMB colour photocopy of the Paladin of Souls cover framed and hanging above my desk.

  4. Merrian

    I’ve started a Barrayar Dreaming pinterest board cos I am a fangrrl It is essentially upcycling pics via the captions that relate in some way to anything that captured my imagination in the books. I’m now thinking of what I could do for a Chalion pinboard, hmm 🙂


  1. Fantasy, Heroism, Flaws: The Curse of Chalion, Lois McMaster Bujold | Something More - [...] I used an Audible credit to get Lois McMaster Bujold’s Curse of Chalion because when it was featured recently in a Dear…


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