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The Curse of Chalion

[The Curse of Chalion] The Curse of Chalion
by Lois McMaster Bujold
Published by Eos, 2001
Amazon.com: hardcover, paperback
Amazon.ca: hardcover, paperback
Amazon.co.uk: hardcover, paperback
Recommended by: Greg Slade

Unlike most of her previous work (except The Spirit Ring), The Curse of Chalion is what Bujold refers to as "a fat fantasy." This time, the setting is based on 15th century Spain. (I say "based on", because Bujold has made a lot of changes: geographically, historically, theologically. Essentially, all that has been retained is some interesting historical characters. (At that, Bujold is more honest than many writers, who twist history to suit their own story, and then try to palm it off as a "dramatisation" of history.)

The story follows the adventures of Cazaril, a soldier who has suffered (literally) through every military misadventure of his lifetime, and there have been many of them. After being freed from a slave galley, he returns to the castle where he acted as a page in his youth, hoping to find some safe, quiet position of service where he can recover from his scars (psychic and physical) and live out the rest of his days in peace. But this is Bujold, so you know that he's not going to get what he wants.

The adventure is gripping, and the characters are vibrant, as you would expect from Bujold. But a large part of what makes this work so special is Bujold's exploration of theology. Unlike most fantasy works, where the gods (if they exist at all) are merely "spear carriers" (maybe carrying larger spears) existing primarily to move the plot along, Bujold's gods are also real characters. She seems to have put in a considerable effort to deal with the questions arising from the existence of gods or God, and the relationship between the divine and the human. Since Bujold consistently refuses to discuss her theological stance in public, this book offers a tantalising glimpse into her thinking on the subject. I may be reading too much into it, but it does seem to be saying that, at the very least, she is seriously seeking answers. In any case, the glimpse of heaven that Bujold provides is one of the most beautiful I have ever read. (January, 2003)

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