The Capricious Will of the Gods: A Review of The Curse of Chalion

the-curse-of-chalionThe Curse of Chalion (2001)
Written by: Lois McMaster Bujold
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 502 (Mass Market Paperback)
Series: The World of the Five Gods Book 1
Publisher: Harper Voyager

Why I Chose It: The World of Five Gods was first brought to my attention about ten years ago when I decided that reading the Hugo Winners list would be a fun idea, and Paladin of Souls had recently won. I wasn’t doing it in any particular order but as things go, I read about ten of them and then got distracted and said I’d come back to it. I’ve darted in and out over the years but still hadn’t made it to this world until I reviewed Penric and the Shaman for this site a few weeks ago. I adored that novella and really wanted to read more of the world.

The Premise:

A man broken in body and spirit, Cazaril returns to the noble household he once served as page and is named secretary-tutor to the beautiful, strong-willed sister of the impetuous boy who is next in line to rule. It is an assignment Cazaril dreads, for it must ultimately lead him to the place he most fears: the royal court of Cardegoss, where the powerful enemies who once placed him in chains now occupy lofty positions.

But it is more than the traitorous intrigues of villains that threaten Cazaril and the Royesse Iselle here, for a sinister curse hangs like a sword over the entire blighted House of Chalion. And only by employing the darkest, most forbidden of magics can Cazaril hope to protect his royal charge — an act that will mark him as a tool of the miraculous . . . and trap him in a lethal maze of demonic paradox.

No spoilers ahead.

Discussion: So this isn’t the first time I’ve started this book, but I can’t remember when the last time was. I just vividly remember picking up an entirely different copy of the book that I own (yes, I own multiple copies of a book that until the other day I’d never read, what of it?), reading a few pages, and then putting it down again. This book is dense, has a very steep learning curve for the vocabulary and world building, and it starts right on page one. There’s no easing into this world.

I’ve already started Paladin of Souls, which includes two pages of maps to start the book, which I was also really grateful for, but you don’t get that in The Curse of Chalion either, you’re really left to muddle through things. But ultimately it is so worth it, you guys. At some point you just have to let go of needing to understand everything and just let the story wash over you. I started this book scratching my head and wondering if, at some point, things would be explained to me, and I finished it sobbing on my couch and clutching my cat because everything was so beautiful.

Cazaril is a perfect hero, flawed and scarred and muddling through life, accidentally (or not so, as you come to see) stumbling onto the right answer and the right person at the right time. I loved him, but even more than I loved him, I loved his effect on the people around him. He didn’t think of himself as anything special, which could have almost seemed like a humblebrag given the way he eventually ends up, but it wasn’t, and he was handled beautifully. But his two charges, the Royesse Iselle and her companion Betriz, are the two characters that took this book from good to great for me.

Iselle and Betriz are smart and active and interesting young women. They absorb the information that Cazaril imparts like active little sponges and by the end of the book are directing entire armies to bring about their desired change. Watching their growth over the book from flighty young teenagers to actual rulers (in Iselle’s case) was beautiful.

This book was definitely one of those that by the middle of it I had no idea how it could possibly be resolved, everything seemed so dire. Up until the actual resolution I was still guessing, and I love being surprised by books like that.

In conclusion: My one complaint about this book is that I’ve read 502 pages and still don’t have a distinct idea of how the country’s government works, or the church hierarchy. But I don’t particularly care, so I’m not even sure I could call it a complaint. All in all, Cazaril’s journey from actual slave to [spoilers redacted] is a grueling, beautiful, worthwhile journey. And it’s a journey I highly recommend you take as well.


  • Weasel of Doom August 3, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    I am so glad you liked it! “The Curse of Chalion” and “The Paladin of Souls” are two of my favorite Bujold books. I am really enjoying Penric’s adventures, too!

  • Shara White August 3, 2017 at 1:48 pm

    I remember that when I read this, if I hadn’t been reading it for a book club, I would’ve put it aside. It took SO LONG to get acclimated, and it was my first rodeo with Bujold too! But I guess I liked it enough to read Paladin of Souls, which I love fiercely, and I went on to read Hallowed Hunt, which I enjoy very much. I’m rather in love with the worldbuilding, and maybe one day I’ll re-read this now that I’ve gotten over the learning curve!

    • Nicole Taft August 3, 2017 at 6:12 pm

      Oh man I remember this book from the club! I never did continue on with the series though. It was interesting, but not enough to keep me going. Funny enough though, I _do_ think of this book when the Seven get mentioned in GoT….

      • Shara White August 3, 2017 at 10:07 pm

        Paladin of Souls is AMAZING, and so worth reading. You should pick it up. You get an old lady as a protagonist, and how often does THAT happen?

  • Nancy O'Toole Meservier August 6, 2017 at 2:15 pm

    This is one of my all time favorite fantasy novels, and one I frequently recommend to others. Glad to see you enjoyed it!

  • kendrame August 7, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    I really love this book, though it’s been a while since I’ve touched it. Definitely time for a re-read.


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