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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 1 July 2002
After some years in which she stuck to science fiction, Bujold has again brought out, in her words, "a fat fantasy." This one is set in an alternate late mediaeval Spain. Only in this world, there are multiple gods. Unlike many fantasies which include gods, The Curse of Chalion treats the gods seriously, exploring in some depth the relationship between the world of spirit and the world of matter, and specifically the kinds of events which would bring the two into contact. Rather than being cheap plot devices to bring about events which wouldn't be believable otherwise, Bujold's gods are real, with their own character and motivations. As such, this book provides a tantalising glimpse into Bujold's own theological thinking, a subject about which she is not otherwise forthcoming.
The protagonist, Cazaril, has had a tough life, culminating in a long stretch at the oars of a slave galley. When he is finally rescued, he makes for the castle where he had a happy period in his childhood, serving as a page. He hopes that the lady of the castle will remember him, and give him a nice, comfortable, safe position, where he can recuperate from his assorted physical and psychic injuries in peace. Of course, knowing Bujold, you just know that comfort, safety, and peace are the last things Cazaril is going to find. What we find in these pages is a new Bujold hero, every bit as worthy to carry on the tradition of her brilliant characters as Miles Vorkosigan and Leo Graf.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 1 January 2004
I've never read any of Bujold's other work, but after _The Curse of Chalion_ I think I might. This is an absorbing, skillfully-woven tale of curses and consequences, told with succinct artistry in a single volume. (I gather more books set in this world are to come, but the story here is self-contained).
Having escaped the slavery that he was betrayed into, Cazaril returns home a broken man. He is appointed tutor to the spirited Royesse Iselle, whose fierce intelligence and infectious passion for life gives him back some of the joy he has lost, and a purpose - protecting her, whatever the cost to himself. Gradually, he becomes aware of a terrible curse afflicting the royal family, and determines to lift it.
The curse itself is a fascinating creation, one intimately bound up in the nature of the world Bujold has created. The gods are very much active forces, here, and consequences resonate through generations. Curse and story alike unfold in unexpected, occasionally shocking directions, resulting in a quite brilliant portrait of how desperation can warp even the strongest fidelity.
The characters are engaging and most are well-rounded, each bringing their own histories and secrets to the story, which unfold naturally with the narrative. Their pain - physical and emotional - is believable and affecting.
Even over 400 pages, the novel doesn't quite retain its momentum; the pacing is a little uneven and the ending a little unsatisfying (to me, at least). Nevertheless, this is a gripping and intriguing tale that I couldn't put down.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 8 October 2003
All to often fantasy novels deal with a group of stereotypical characters searching for some mystical item in a battle against evil.
Using some believable characters who do not easily fit the stereotypes, taking time to build up those characters to the point where the reader's imagination breathes life into them, and giving them a well thought-out world and theology to interact with, while telling a story that relies on intrigue and politic for its thrills - and thrills are plentiful - instead of swords and sorcery, Bujold has written a captivating book that was a true joy to read.
The stereotypes do creep in in the second half of the book, but never in a way that feels contrived. It is hard to recommend the Curse of Chalion enough. Unputdownable.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 21 March 2006
From page one of this book I was gripped, and as events unfolded I found myself transported to a new world, that of the kingdom of Chalion.
Our guide for the story is Cazaril who we first meet as a tired and lame beggar making his way to the fortress where his erstwhile employer, the Provincara (rather like the Queen Mum) of Chalion, lives. Cazaril was previously a Castillar (a Noble) and a courtier but after a fortress he was defending was breached he was taken away as a prisoner of war by the Roknari peoples who forced him to be a galley slave on boats for eighteen months, thus his broken down health. His reminiscences of his history before the time we meet him in the story gradually unfold and prove to be more important to events that initially apparent.
Once Cazaril is accepted into the Provincara’s service again as a tutor to her granddaughter we meet other members of her family – her daughter Ista (who appears to be mad), her granddaughter Iselle the princess (Or Royesse), her brother Teidez the prince (or Royce), their elder half-brother Orico (the Roya) and his wife (the Royina) and various other courtiers. As you can see from the different terms given for the grades of nobles, it can be quite confusing and I would rather have enjoyed a table of degrees of nobility – might have made it a bit simpler.
What’s fascinating about this book (and its sequel, Paladin of Souls, which I read straight after this one) is the theological background to the story. Bujold has created an entire religious system based on five deities (the Father, The Mother, The Daughter, The Son and The Bastard) – the religious observance of the people of Chalion is portrayed brilliantly. Many of the events are shaped by the Gods and the influence they have in the real world, culminating in Cazaril becoming a living saint. And yet the hand of these gods is not always benevolent, and it is the way in which Bujold unfolds the story of the curse on the descendants of King Ias (the father of Iselle, Teidez and Orico) and the ways in which Cazaril and others try to break it.
There’s also a charming love story unfolding between Cazaril and Iselle’s handmaiden Betriz which adds a little spice to the story alongside a marriage for political gain between Iselle and a neighbouring kingdom’s heir.
What I found so enjoyable about this tale was the different setting of the quintarian religion and the way in which the gods played important roles in the story; Cazaril is a worthy hero with flashes of humour and real grit – I was rooting for him to succeed in lifting the curse.
The follow up to this book, Paladin Of Souls, is just as good – I heartily recommend both books.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 21 March 2006
From page one of this book I was gripped, and as events unfolded I found myself transported to a new world, that of the kingdom of Chalion.

Our guide for the story is Cazaril whom we first meet as a tired and lame beggar making his way to the fortress where his erstwhile employer, the Provincara (rather like the Queen Mum) of Chalion, lives. Cazaril was previously a Castillar (a Noble) and a courtier but after a fortress he was defending was breached he was taken away as a prisoner of war by the Roknari peoples who forced him to be a galley slave on boats for eighteen months, thus his broken down health. His reminiscences of his history before the time we meet him in the story gradually unfold and prove to be more important to events that initially apparent.

Once Cazaril is accepted into the Provincara's service again as a tutor to her granddaughter we meet other members of her family - her daughter Ista (who appears to be mad), her granddaughter Iselle the princess (Or Royesse), her brother Teidez the prince (or Royce), their elder half-brother Orico (the Roya) and his wife (the Royina) and various other courtiers. As you can see from the different terms given for the grades of nobles, it can be quite confusing and I would rather have enjoyed a table of degrees of nobility - might have made it a bit simpler.

What's fascinating about this book (and its sequel, Paladin of Souls, which I read straight after this one) is the theological background to the story. Bujold has created an entire religious system based on five deities (the Father, The Mother, The Daughter, The Son and The Bastard) - the religious observance of the people of Chalion is portrayed brilliantly. Many of the events are shaped by the Gods and the influence they have in the real world, culminating in Cazaril becoming a living saint. And yet the hand of these gods is not always benevolent, and it is the way in which Bujold unfolds the story of the curse on the descendants of King Ias (the father of Iselle, Teidez and Orico) and the ways in which Cazaril and others try to break it.

There's also a charming love story unfolding between Cazaril and Iselle's handmaiden Betriz which adds a little spice to the story alongside a marriage for political gain between Iselle and a neighbouring kingdom's heir.

What I found so enjoyable about this tale was the different setting of the quintarian religion and the way in which the gods played important roles in the story; Cazaril is a worthy hero with flashes of humour and real grit - I was rooting for him to succeed in lifting the curse.

The follow up to this book, Paladin Of Souls, is just as good - I heartily recommend both books. And, as a side note, I have this book on CD read by Lloyd James and he does an excellent job of the reading too. A book to savour and enjoy - in whatever format.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 20 February 2003
The action here is through the politics of the characters and resulting motivations, while the emotion is vested in our lead character, Cazaril, and the intense loyality and more that he feels for 'his' two ladies - an intensity he felt from the time he first saw them on his return to his homeland, to the very last line of the book.
Cazaril has returned from war a broken man, in body and largely in spirit, and at the opening of the book he simply wants a place to stop and rest - even a small space on the floor. Rather, the ruling family that he served before the war instead receive him as the wounded hero he is, and set him up as the tutor / secretary of the daughter of the house, who along with her brother are heirs to their part of the kingdom. The privileged have their own responsibilities, and in short order both young heirs have to go to the central city, where their brother who rules the Chalion as a whole has brought them. Once there, both are subject to the overt political manoeuvrings of the court. And few with motives of the good of those they seek to manipulate. But more than that, events enable Cazaril to identify a horrifying curse that hovers over Chalion, and in particlular in the line that rules it. A curse that infects even his student...
Cazaril is clearly an extraordinary character. Those who have read LMB's Vorkosigan series will recognise that because a body is damaged, does not mean that the character cannot be exceptional. Aside from the fact that Cazaril's body doesn't work as well as others, and that he has a keen tactical mind, however, there is not much similarity to that series, and fans of the series will have to keep this firmly in mind if setting out to read this book - it is a different story altogether. However, the writing is just as excellent.
It can be a stretch from time to time to follow the many different agendas of the various secondary characters, however I quickly found I became very much involved with the interior events of Cazaril. He is a man who makes sacrifices for what he believes is right, regardless of the cost to himself. A few - luckily among them the few who matter to him most - recognise him for the exceptional man that he is. His advice and tactics are always spot on, and the flaws he sees in others do tend to rear up and bite them, sometimes fatally. The females in the story are strong or brave, or unusually perceptive, and they are the ones who seem to value Cazaril most, which I greatly enjoyed about this book. Although the perspective never shifts from Cazaril, even when he seems less aware, the reader can tell how important he is to both those that care for him, and the success of the various plans that are made. His charge Iselle goes from naïve girl to perceptive and thinking royal under his care and supervision, very much coming into her own.
Politics, religion, tactics, warfare, loyality, love and friendship. There's something for everyone here.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 14 December 2002
This is a departure from her Barryar books, which I have read over the years. The hero, Cazaril, is a very likeable humane man. He has suffered much, but his sufferings have not made him bitter or cruel, he tends to underrate his own abilities and worth and his wry sense of humour is much in evidence as he tackles the problems life has put in front of him. The story holds together well, moving at a reasonable pace. The country, the inhabitants, their mores, are all well developed. A totally believable world which holds your interest from beginning to end. No magic or fancy science, just good old fashioned heroism and courage.
Do read it!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
I hadn't read any of Ms Bujold's work before but, if "The Curse of Chalion" is anything to go by, I've certainly been missing out. Cazaril is a well written character I found easy to empathise with. From his return from the sea to his evential rise he maintains his honour through a series of life events that would leave most characters dead or insane. Ok, so he makes a few mistakes along the way; it would be a lousy story if he didn't; but he wins through because he knows the difference between might and right.
A gripping book I couldn't put down. Wonderful.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This is one of my favourite books among the many hundreds that I have read. I recommend it whole-heartedly. Do not miss it.

The setting, influenced by Reconquista Spain, is more interesting than cookie-cutter fantasy (which can be fun, of course, but is often the first resort of the lazy author). The characters are superb, particularly the protagonist. Going through his trials and sufferings, I felt like I was one with him. When he wanted a safe haven, I did too. When he felt forced into desperate measures, I felt the pressure crushing him. Imperfect and wounded but still talented and admirable, I wanted him to succeed. A great deal of my emotional investment in the book came from how well he is written.

Moreover, this novel deals with religion in a serious and interesting way. Gods are not just added to the setting because they seem required in a fantasy and thereafter neglected; they are meshed deeply into the fabric of the universe and the plot of the book. The treatment of religion and its relationship with people is refreshingly subtle - dare I say it, adult?

Unlike many fantasy tomes that lose the run of themselves, particularly the multi-volume type, The Curse of Chalion never spends more time on an event that it has to. If nothing interesting happens during a number of days, there is a time skip until something interesting does happen. When the author lingers on an event, it's because what's happening is important enough to warrant the extra pages. Bujold's grasp of pacing is perfect and many other authors could afford to learn from her. I found myself turning the pages eagerly from start to finish, whether a moment was profoundly reflective or events were occurring at a breakneck speed.

Read this. Then go on to Paladin of Souls and enjoy more wonderful time spent in this world.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 20 March 2003
As a HUGE fan of Miles Vorkosigan since the begining (and with an admitted weakness for flawed heroes) I approached this book with some trepidation - but I shouldn't have worried! The writing is as crisp and clear as I have come to expect and the adventure is a wonderful mix of the cosmic scale and personal epiphany. Cazaril is a charming but always less than perfect hero who "gets down and dirty" when needed and doesn't always escape unscathed. His Princess is all one would expect of a liege lord and the supporting cast is lively and varied. I would highly recommend this to all Bujold MacMaster fans, and I am waiting impatiently for the next in what I hope is a long and significant series!
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