Already Lois McMaster Bujold has nabbed a Hugo Award Nomination for this beautifully crafted fantasy yarn. It takes a while to discover the Curse of the title, but when you do it's well worth the wait. In the meantime the world and its characters are painted with the clarity of a movie.
The protagonist, Cazaril, is a well drawn, sympathetic figure from the start, who appears to be at the end of his days. War-torn and worn-out from battle, cruelly tossed into foreign slavery by his enemies - the self seeking Jironal brothers - while given up for dead by his friends. After his escape he returns to the courtly home of his youth. There it becomes clear he is more than just a sorry shell of a man; the Gods have ear-marked him to reverse the fortunes of the beleaguered House of Chalion, and especially its princess, the Royesse Iselle.
Although the story is chivalric and courtly, the language is thankfully not turgid and the dialogue shines. There are some interesting secondary charaters too, such as the secretive Umegat, Groom of the Roya (that's King to you and me), who turns out to have a lot more up his sleeve than just a gift for animal husbandry.
The religious culture of this pre-Christian-like world is complex and confidently described. The five deities (of Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and the Bastard... yes Bastard) each have their name days, seasonal dress, and extremely eventful funeral rites, all minutely observed by Bujold, and inspire some charming expletives ("Bastard's Hell!" may catch on). All this detail is necessary as the story explodes in the middle into extra-sensory supernatural technicolour.
It has everything you want in a fantasy, and then some; adventure. love, humour, heroism, Death-Magic, and a small round pebble. You won't be able to put it down through all its twists and turns, and you'll hug yourself with glee at the climax.
[Bujold Told: Before getting published Bujold was an unemployed mother of two. Short on cash, she was encouraged to use her writing talent by her friend, writer Lillian Stewart Carl. She's never looked back.]
© 2002 by Thursa Wilde and
Future Publishing, re-published by kind permission.
Originally published in SFX Magazine (September 2002)
Added to The Bujold Nexus: August 14th 2002
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Last updated: March 20th 2007