The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
ISBN: 0380818604 – #1 in the Chalion series
Cazaril heard the mounted horsemen on the road before he saw them. He glanced over his shoulder. The well-worn track behind him curled up around a rolling rise, what passed for a hill on these high windy plains, before dipping again into the late-winter muck of Baocia’s bony soil
Lois McMaster Bujold is one of the big names in SFF, but I’ve only recently come to read her books. A few months ago I read Paladin of Souls, which is the second in the Chalion series. But although there are reoccuring characters and shared history I don’t think you have to have the first one in order to read that. I hadn’t, but I’m sure that if I now reread it after reading The Curse of Chalion it would make a lot more sense.
The main hero of this novel is Cazaril, a man who has only recently escaped from life as a slave, chained to an oar. Now he returns to a former home where he once served as page, looking for somewhere to call home. Where he can rest and recuperate. Instead he finds himself appointed secretary-tutor to the Royesse Iselle, the sister to the heir to the throne of Chalion. And in the process becomes caught up in political intrigue, as well as theological debates and the work of the gods.
In some ways Chalion stands in for Castile, with Royina (Princess) Iselle standing in for Isabella of Castile, but it is not a historical novel tinged with fantasy elements, rather a fantasy novel inspired by history.
Throughout the book religion plays a large role, as does discussion on the nature of free will and the role of the gods. But in an entertaining, though serious, way. Cazaril’s story is one of sacrifice, redemption and divine intervention.
The curse of the title happened before the novel’s beginning, but its effects, and the attempts to lift it are what drive the plot of the novel.
A good read, Caz is an entertaining and likeable character, and the plot itself will keep you reading.