Friday, October 28, 2016

Savage curses are occasionally answered prayers

Well, given I'm waiting for holds to show up at the library, this has required delving into my bookshelf for more books again.

In this case, I dug out one of my favorite books, Lois McMaster Bujold's The Curse of Chalion. 

As a bit of backstory, I went to an author's signing of this particular volume back in 2000ish thanks to a coworker mentioning it in passing. While I mainly went to get my copy of Ethan of Athos signed, she talked of her mindset while writing Chalion, and eventually, I think I ripped off the Science Fiction Book Club to get a copy.

Chalion as the book opens, is a landlocked kingdom sandwiched between the archipelago of the Roknari; Brajar and Ibra on coasts; with vast Darcatha to the South. As we get bits of the history, we find that the Roknari had long ago conquered the lands, savaging everything as they came south. Eventually, the peoples fought back, driving the Roknari north to the 5 Princedoms of the archipelago. Prior to the start of this story, the Lion of the Roknari, the Golden General managed to unite the princedoms into one nation and began to take back the land. Fonsa the Wise (Roya of Chalion), eventually performed Death Magic to take out the General, killing Fonsa and the General. Thus why Fonsa became posthumously known as Fonsa the Fairly Wise.

As the book opens, we meet Cazaril (which technically is his last name, his full name and title is Castillar Lupe dy Cazaril), who has spent weeks walking from the Ibran coast to Valenda, a town in the Chalionese province of Baocia. Cazaril, nearly broken from years on a Roknari slave galley, seeks work with the Provincara, whom he knew in his youth working as her husband's page. The Provincara is not alone in her home, as her daughter, the former Royina Ista is there, lost in seeming madness, along with the Royesse and Royce of Chalion, Iselle and Teidez.

 Through happenstance, Cazaril ends up becoming Iselle's Secretary-Tutor, along with her courtier, Betriz. Iselle is the more level headed of Ista's children, with Teidez being an adolescent boy more interested in hunting than statecraft.

Eventually, the current Roya of Chalion, Ista's stepson Orico, summons the siblings and their entourages to the Zangre castle in the capitol city of Cardegoss. It's here we meet the brothers dy Jironal, Martou and Dondo. Martou, currently Orico's Chancellor, was directly responsible for Cazaril's sale to the Roknari slavers following the siege of Gotorget, albeit at his brother's urging.

Much politicing ensues, and eventually, Dondo ends up engaged to marry Iselle, a situation not much loved by anyone other than Dondo. Which is when Caz attempts Death Magic on Dondo. And survives, even as Dondo doesn't. Which is how we find out Caz is now Gods touched, and we find out what the curse in the title refers to, as all of Fonsa's line share the curse brought on by the Golden General's death.

The ride to the end is glorious.

This is one of the few books that I recommend to almost everyone I know. It's that good.

(Side note: I know goodreads lists this as book 2 in the series, with High Hunt listed as book 1 and the Penric novellas as 1.5 and 1.6, but Chalion and its sequel, Paladin of Souls were written first. And honestly, Chalion will give readers a much better grounding in the World of the Five Gods than any of the other volumes, even if they can be read in series chronological order.)