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The Curse of Chalion
Lois McMaster Bujold

Read in February of 2004, at which point it had been what felt like ten years since I read a completely new fantasy novel—not rereading something old, not reading the latest installment in a series I've been following forever, but something new. This is because, as far as I can tell, an overwhelming amount of new fantasy blows.

The Curse of Chalion does not blow. It is, in fact, very very good, in the vein of "just a few more pages... and then you realize it's 1:30 in the morning," which is when I finished it. Don't regret it, either.

I'll forgo a synopsis, since you can find one of those anywhere, and get right to the critique. The world is low-fantasy without being self-consciously gritty. The political situation that hold between the kingdoms concerned is very well done (although for some reason, there is no map!). The religious structure is imaginative, well-thought-through, and believably permeates the society she's writing about. This last is important because the only magic present is in the form of miracles, which tend to be interestingly double-edged. The aspect most important to the plot is death magic, where only if you want it badly enough to die yourself can you kill someone. I wish I had thought of that.

The main character, Cazaril, is an interesting guy with a good story behind him; he does not suffer from the common fantasy protagonist's problems of üaut;bercompetence or self-indulgent angst. What he has going for him is little more than a fierce devotion to duty. Over the course of the novel we see him change from a man nearly broken by suffering to a thoughtful, competent protector of the girl he has sworn to serve, and final vessel for Chalion's salvation. The other characters are nicely drawn albeit from familiar stock; the spirited princess, the scheming chancellor, the valiant knight. The plot had enough unexpected moments to keep me reading through the aforementioned hour (you don't even find out what the curse is until about halfway through the book, but it can in no way be said to drag), and a couple of genuinely moving parts. The dialogue is smart

Now for the flaws. The romantic parts of the plot were so predictable as to be almost annoying. In a couple of places, minor characters have spates of dialogue that seems to have intended for humorous effect, but which seems out of place. And the ending... things get a bit too convenient for my taste, but that's just me. And given the context, a deus ex machina is far from out of place, but it still vexed me for some reason.

But all of that aside, it was well worth the 7.99 (when did paperbacks get so bloody expensive?!). I look forward to reading the next one.

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© 2004 Rebecca J. Stevenson