An excellent example of fantasy writing. This is the second novel I've read by Lois McMaster Bujold, and I enjoyed this one even more than the first. She weaves a beautifully rich and detailed setting for her characters that are dynamic, multi-faceted and wholly complete. The plot twists and winds through a combination of royal intrigue, war and magic--seamlessly woven together. If I had anything negative to say it would be that the ending seemed a bit forced and weak after an intense and expertly written climax. I almost wish it could have ended soon after the climax as it kind of petered out afterwards. But, in all, it was a wonderful read that entices me to continue reading Bujold's works.
Cazaril, once a beloved servant and soldier of the kingdom of Chalion and its most powerful houses, is on the long journey home after several years as a slave on a ship. He has his suspicions of how he came to be abandoned to the Roknari slavers, with no ransom coming to claim him despite all his high connections, but after all his suffering, Cazaril just wants to return home to a simple life. He seeks a lowly position in the house where he’d once been employed as a courier when he was young, but when his aged former mistress lays eyes on him, she has a much higher summoning for him.
The Provincara has in her care her daughter, the widow of the last king, and her grandchildren, the princess and prince of the realm and siblings of the current King Orico. It happens that the young royals are in need of a tutor with deep knowledge of the kingdom of Chalion and its surrounding provinces, an understanding of martial command, and bred with noble manners. In a word, Cazaril. Quite unexpectedly, Cazaril finds himself serving as the personal secretary and tutor to the clever and sharp Iselle and her lady-in-waiting, Betriz.
Once Cazaril has found comfort and solace in his new life, everything is flipped on its side. The young royals are summoned to court by their brother the king and Cazaril comes face to face with those who designed his betrayal years ago. Once a soldier, once a keeper of the nobles’ intrigues as a young courier, Cazaril now has no desire for action or playing the game of court. But the gods have other plans for him, and eventually Cazaril’s hand is forced in a way that will change the whole dynasty of Chalion and cost Cazaril more than his life.
For all his traditionally heroic deeds in war and his role in noble secrets in his younger days, Cazaril is now foremost a sensitive and quiet man. Physical manifestations of romance in this romantic fantasy novel are rare treats, but Cazaril is a constant romantic in his ideals. I was quickly endeared to him–I cannot resist a man who locks himself in his room to cry. Iselle and her quick wit make for a great princess, especially between her prematurely aged brother Orico and rash young Teidez. The Chalion court is full of great characters, kind priests and conniving lords. I appreciate that there are many characters with good intentions and that there are friends to be found–not being able to trust anyone in the grimdark novels of late gets exhausting.
While political and spiritual stakes are high, the real sense of drama comes from how much the reader is brought to care about the characters. It’s not just because Iselle is a princess that I care about her marriage prospects; I wanted this kind and clever girl to have a husband worthy of her. Even ineffectual Orico stirs more sympathy than frustration. And sweet Cazaril, whose suffering appears doomed to be never-ending, and all borne with a grace and acceptance that make his violent prospects all the more tragic.
This is certainly not the last book by Louise McMaster Bujold I’ll be reading. I loved her story crafting and her writing, especially the dialogue. I don’t know that I’ll continue with the next Chalion book–at least, not anytime soon–but perhaps The Sharing Knife. It was so easy to love her world and the people in it, from their small personal hopes to their great sense of spirituality. I will never know how I got this far in my fantasy reading career without learning her name until now, but this has been corrected. I’ll take more romantic fantasy please! Is there an aisle for that at the library?
I have not read a lot of fantasy novels but this book is certainly encouraging me to read more. Great characters and solid story line.
I love this book my copy is falling apart i've read it so many times.
Loved this book so much I reread it again a few days later!
So very very good.
This book was a very pleasant surprise. I had no idea what it was about, and was sucked in immediately. The world building was great, and the characters vivid. There's one very convenient plot point, but it's not enough to ruin anything. Loved it.
Other commenters have said most of what there is to say, but seriously, seriously, this book is fantastic. Cazaril's long-suffering and scruffy soul is a beautiful thing. Iselle and Bertriz are great too, and if I started listing my favourite secondary characters, I would go through all of them. Just further proof of this author's amazing ability to portray both politics and people.
This is one of my favorites. I've now read it 4 times and loved it each one. I stayed up late to read it even though I already knew the ending. Cazaril is a great character. He has to help a princes and end the curse put on the kingdom. This story is one full of adventure, political manuvering, strategy, old secrets, relationships and Gods interfering in the lives of mortals.
I actually picked this one up after being intrigued by "Paladin of Souls." The auhtor spins a fabulously complex story of political intrigue without falling into the trap of a heavy, cumbersome novel. It leans a bit more towards the fantasy end, but if you like "Game of Thrones", you might want to give this a try.
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