The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

Sometimes fantasy can surprise you.

The royal family of Chalion is maddened and sickened by a dark curse that corrupts and twists all the good and powerful traits of themselves and those around them. Warping family loyalty into blind corruption and ambition into greed and power mongering.

Cazaril, broken and beaten, returns to his childhood home and finds himself appointed scribe to the Royina Iselle and thrust into the middle of a court roiling with fervent contention and waning under the curse, though few know of its existence.

Desperate to save his charge he fervently seeks aid from one of his gods and finds his prayers answered, and, much to his dismay, far beyond anything he had hoped.

Cazaril is a broken man in nearly every sense of the word. Except for the most important. He is still a man of morals. He has been broken and whipped nearly to death, betrayed and sold into slavery but he retains his morals and his unwillingness to see injustice done.

The world of Chalion is one overseen by five gods, the Father, the Mother, the Daughter, the Son and the Bastard. The gods are unable to interact with the world except in very small ways unless they can find a person willing to give up their own desires in service to the gods. These people are called saints, or god-touched.

The religion is by far one of the most fascinating things about this book but only because it is so central to the story being told. The gods of Chalion have taken an interest in the royal family and because of that both good and ill come into their lives.

So much fantasy and science fiction today seems to think that religion, by nature, is evil. Evil is portrayed as religious groups with strong beliefs. Good people can see past all that nonsense. In The Curse of Chalion religion is true and good. The gods are not tyrants who torture people or demand blood sacrifice and conquest in order to be appeased. They are benevolent beings with a strong desire to let people learn and grow from their own mistakes… and step in when they must.

As is to be expected from Bujold the writing is well above the average. Her ability to tell a story clearly, beautifully and concisely is one of the reasons that she is one of the most awarded authors in science faction and fantasy. She also tells great stories that linger afterward, resting on the mind and teasing it about.

Her stories are not just powerful, emotional character adventures. They are also brilliant studies of moral questions.

I cannot recommend The Curse of Chalion highly enough. At times it will make you smile, or laugh and others you will cry in despair and sadness. When Cazaril finally understands what his fate is you will shake your fists at the gods and cry at the injustice. It is a powerful novel telling a powerful story that will stick with you.

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