Jenny's Library

Reading Round-up 2013: Week 9

Posted on: April 12, 2013

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

cover image for The Curse of Chalion

(Yes, this was the only book I finished between February 15th and February 21st 2013.  If one is only going to read a book a week, though, it ought to be one as good as this one was.)

When Lupe dy Cazaril arrives on foot, dressed in borrowed clothes, at the house where he once worked as a page, the castillar is merely hoping for a chance at some minor position that might keep him fed.  He’d be grateful for a chance at working in the kitchens, quite honestly. The last thing he expects is to be appointed as the secretary and tutor to his lady’s grandaughter, the Royesse Iselle.  But his lady still has faith in him, and plans for him as well.  As it turns out, she’s not the only one.

When friends tell me I must read something because they know I will love it, I tend to picture something much like a Tamora Pierce novel, I suppose.  Not a story about battered former soldier acting as a tutor to a royal charge.  Certainly not a story involving religion and a mystical illness. Yet, despite not being at all what I expected, The Curse of Chalion is easily one of the best books I’ve read so far this year.

Bujold is fantastic at character, and of creating protagonists that are flawed but trying.  Cazaril has humility and humor, but also a sense of self that’s almost remarkable considering what he has gone through.  Bujold’s skill and wit gives his tale a distinct voice that makes it a pleasure to read.

There’s so much here that’s unexpected and surprising, too.  Certain plot twists may be fairly predictable, but there are plenty of unforeseen events and overall the book has a flavor and direction that’s just so delightfully different.  Refreshing, as well, is how Caz handles his attraction to his young charges; Bujold does not gloss over it or demonize it, but neither does she have Caz pretend that acting on it would be anything but dishonorable – not merely in terms of vows and norms, but also simply because such behavior would be damaging to the young women he cares so much about.

Small touches throughout demonstrate that Bujold understands just what kind of work is needed to keep households and kingdoms going, in deeds both large and small.  This is clearly typical of the author, but it’s well done enough here that it deserves a mention.  Combined with the variety and believability of the personalities in the book, the story is grounded and detailed enough that it’s sometimes easy to forget that this is second world fantasy, not historical fiction.

If you haven’t read this book, you need to. Now.


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