The Curse of Chalion  - Lois McMaster Bujold I hate reviewing books that I really like. It’s really freaking hard, especially when I don’t really have a systemic way to determine whether or not a book deserves a five star rating (i.e., the I-want-to-sing-and-gush rating).

So, I thought, what the hey. Let me start this review from the point in time when I first realized that this book was a WIN. And this particular review that was written by a mind that was blown starts out with a sob story:

Last week one morning, I woke up with my face feeling stuffed and itchy, eyes watering, and my temperature vacillating between slightly hot and feverish. I called in sick and slept most of the morning away only to wake up with a splitting headache. Feeling physically miserable but bored, I picked up The Curse of Chalion in hopes that I could make the time fly by. I read one page, then fifty, and before I knew it, it was almost 10 PM and I was closing the book, my headache and fever forgotten for the duration of my reading.

Curse the common cold! But a thousand blessings for books like these that make me un-feel discomfort. Pharmaceutical companies should figure out some way to encapsulate books into medical cure-all pills. And any book that makes me think such random thoughts is served a fresh and oh-so-diet-crushing dessert of five golden stars from me:



I will abstain from providing a synopsis (the one I wrote mirrored the book description, anyway). Instead, let me serve the main course first and go into what made this book so amazing: Cazaril.

First, though, let me make an important disclaimer: As smacked in the face we are with heroes of great deeds and daring, some may not find Cazaril to be very memorable. And those who don’t may not enjoy this book as much as I have. No hard feelings if you're missing out on one very layered, very charming character in fantasy.

After all, though he is a hero, Cazaril's not like an honor-stiffened Ned Stark or a badass Roland Deschain or even a wise and powerful Gandalf. There is no noticeable otherworldly aura of power and wisdom about him the saintly aura around him later in the book notwithstanding… But I figure the actual aura around him then is too literal a demonstration of what I am trying to say. Actually, he's quite stunningly human, burdened with human fear and doubt and weaknesses.

It's easy to mistake Cazaril for an old man when we first meet him on the road, dressed and behaving like a beggar, body broken down by great physical injuries and susceptible to his own emotions. We see glimpses of wit and intelligence, but it's quickly overrun by shame, uncertainty, and fear. It's hard to read about the very human heroes like Cazaril because, well, do we want to feel embarrassed for our hero when he can barely stoop down to pick up a coin dropped in the mud? I think not.

Don’t get me wrong—Cazaril has his share of “more-than-normal” abilities. First, he’s an excellent soldier, though he conceals it behind a mild-mannered smile. Also, he’s smart, in a bookish and crafty way. But those aren't his end-game skills, so to say, or what he's really known for. Rather, he uses those skills to gain confidence in his own abilities, believe in his own reasoning, and dig up the courage that he buried long ago. Basically, to become a stronger and better person than he was before, internally and externally.

And the author makes sure we're intimate with Cazaril's development. She drags us along with him, step by painful step. I personally enjoyed the journey because there is change and growth. We see Cazaril slowly start to anchor himself in the tumultuous sea of court politics and divine curses. Other characters (and we) slowly start to depend on Cazaril's inner strength. Quite a shift in dynamic, considering how powerless Cazaril was in the beginning of the book.

On top of excellent character development, the political intrigue that drives events into place is stunningly well written. The intrigue isn’t too complex (for an example of intense behind-the-curtain wheeling and dealing, see Kushiel’s Dart and A Game of Thrones), but it’s well written and, more importantly, is intricately connected with the Curse of Chalion. Don’t be dismayed when you realize you’re a third into the book and there’s no mention of any curse. Trust me. It’s there, it’s real, and Cazaril will become very, er, intimately involved with trying to break it.

It’s fascinating and kind of grotesque stuff.

I realize this review is rambling, so I’ll just pull the plug there.

But for any fantasy aficionado, THE CURSE OF CHALION will be a fantastic read with solid world building, a very sincere religious structure, and, of course, an incredibly multi layered character. Plus, the writing is lovely, and Lois Bujold's sharp wit and irony shines through memorable passages.

Overall, 5.0 stars and very highly recommended!