Many people I know might have thought that, being that I'm a fan of fantasy, I would have read work by Lois McMaster Bujold already. Or at least, the people who might know who she is. Big in the fantasy and science fiction world of novels, I've known her name for a long time, but never read anything. Then I joined in on the Calico Reaction 2011 Book Club because I was starting to run out of book ideas and thought it might be fun to read something I might not pick up otherwise.
January's selection ended up being The Curse of Chalion. Carazil, a soldier who has long since seen his days of death and pain, stumbles back to his home, hoping for a simple life and easy days. But Carazil is instead given to the young Royesse Iselle to be her tutor. That means eventually going to the court of Cardegoss, the one place he would prefer never to visit again. As court politics unfold and old enemies reappear uglier than ever, Carazil is forced to make choices of life and death, discovering not only the curse that lies upon Iselle and her entire royal family, but that he is something vastly important in the world of both men and gods.
To be blunt, this book was interesting. Understand that interesting is not necessarily the same as engrossing or couldn't-put-it-down. The book moves at an easy pace, which actually matches well with Carazil's character. You like the guy, and it's frustrating to wait alongside him and watch as he deals with all the court politics that flow through the kingdom. And that's what most of the book is. Hanging out with Carazil while he walks Iselle through dangerous influential people and teaches her how to survive in such a world. It isn't exciting, and there are only a handful of moments when the tension truly ratchets up.
This is a difficult book for me to really describe, something that doesn't happen often. The story was interesting, the characters had a realistic ring to them, it was easy to sink into the events, you were indeed happy when certain people died, grew impatient for others to stand up for themselves, or for certain characters to kick the bucket. I generally hate politics of any kind, and I tended to teeter on a knife's edge when it came to being interested in things that were going down and getting irritated with the entire situation.
I read along in a way that one might read a history textbook - and it's history you actually don't mind reading about. It's not enthralling, but it's, well, interesting. *shrug* That truly is the best I can do in describing how I feel about this book.
As for other things, I did like that the five deities weren't just there for religion's sake and actually had a few hands in several things. I particularly liked the inclusion of a god dubbed the Bastard. I thought that was a pretty cool concept on Bujold's part. Bujold also gets a high five for her strong female characters. Every one of them.
On the flip side, by page 400 I was waiting for something - anything - to happen. For Carazil to die. For him to not die. For Jironal to die. For the curse to be lifted and the book to end. And then after I got my resolutions, the book kept going and I got impatient as to what else had to happen for things to finally be finished. You know, when you flip to the end and look at the page number and think, "Man...I still have 20 pages to go? What the heck else is there?"
I also had a small issue with the names and titles and the way Bujold went about them. Everybody was "dy" something. Men. Women. Ser dy Ferrej. Lupe dy Carazil. Castillar dy Carazil. Lady dy Huelter. Those two Carazils are the same main character, by the way. And much of the time I had no idea what the titles meant. What's the difference between March and Castillar? It took some time to get used to, and what really sucked was when two brothers made their appearance on the page. Jironal. Half the time I had no idea who was who or who had what title. It made everything so much easier when someone died off. A neat system, but confusing to a newcomer. Oh, and a map would have been awesome.
So, all in all, good. Not amazing for me, but I wasn't bored and overall it was a good read. Will I read more of Bujold? Perhaps. Will I read the second book of Chalion? No. I have other things I'm much more interested in.
Notes from the playlist: "The Death of Queen Jane" by Loreena McKennitt