THE CURSE OF CHALION
Lois McMaster Bujold
Eos/HarperCollins / 448 pages / 1st edition, 31 July 2001
It’s been awhile since I read one of Bujold’s works; let’s just say Miles was in his teens. Between then and now — new authors, genre jumping, and then my own writing — next thing I know the Vorkosigan series had left me behind.
Then, The Curse of Chalion showed up on my doorstep. Now, I just have to wonder how I could so easily have forgotten the pure pleasure to be had in her storytelling.The first thing to strike the reader about Bujold’s work is the warm, welcoming feeling to her narrative. From the first word, she invites you into another world and holds you safely there. This time, the setting is Chalion, a diverse and arresting area of many domains, more potential rulers, and endless machinations. It is a time of chivalrous suffering and cowardly betrayal on a backdrop of courtly manners and wills of iron. Perhaps very foreign to our own existence, but instantly recognisable.
Lord dy Cazaril is home, at last, after surviving the very worst that the wars could mete out. He returns a betrayed man, unsure of his welcome and asking only survival. The loyalty of the friends he fought beside and patrons he served ensure that he will be far better received than that. But, the enemies within the aristocracy that schemed against him during the war have no intention of allowing him to relax and enjoy his homecoming.
The greatest danger, in a time when power is thicker than blood, is to be too near the line of succession. When Cazaril is given charge of Iselle, a strong-willed young woman only a few minor accidents away from the throne, his own existence becomes even more precarious as he must fight not only her enemies, but a deadly curse that follows her bloodline.
As one would expect of Bujold, she has created lively, animated characters that move through her strong plot with hard-headed minds of their own. From stable boy to mad consort, the cast rings with life, determination, and constant surprises. Cazaril stands up as a slightly tattered hero for a time that needs its brave soldiers and fearless maidens. His story is a challenge of human weaknesses against the almost overwhelming demands of right — a battle his world dare not lose.
From the light-speed of her space vessels to the mysterious powers of her array of gods and their mixed-blessings, Bujold can handle the demands of her wide-ranging universes with the lightest, surest touch. It’s no amount of publicity or push of undeserved popularity that keeps her name appearing year after year on the Hugo and the Nebula ballots. Talent and the pure pleasure of her voice hold a spot for Bujold, right where she should be: among the heights of the master storytellers.