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Basic info:

Author: Lois McMaster Bujold

Genre: epic fantasy

Length: 512 pages

Available: Amazon

Publisher: HarperCollins (December 2000)

MY RATING: 5.0 stars

The Curse of Chalion invites us into a world that mirrors mid-fifteenth-century Iberia and the neighboring countries(Castile, Aragon, Portugal, France, Muslim North Africa all have easy to find correlates) and the royal politics of the era. I love that time and place in history, so I had no problem with it. It is in fact sort of an alternative history. The real treasure in the setting is the theology–the five gods are the only source of magic, but I won’t ruin how wonderfully the author handles this aspect of her world.

The story is told entirely from the perspective of one ill-fated man, in a tight third-person POV with his thoughts occasionally presented directly in italics. Lupe de Cazaril (often just Caz for short) is returning poor, battered, and destitute to Chalion, the landlocked analogue to Castile. He arrives at the estate of his old patron and the story truly begins as he begs for some position in the court where he once served as a page. The gods have great plans for him.

Bujold delivers a stirring narrative through Caz’s eyes that alternated between warming my heart and wrenching it out, but always with a sense of humor and humanity. I have already acquired a copy of the sequel, and I look forward to digging in. Highly recommended (6/5 stars) for fans of court intrigue, medieval alternative worlds, interesting magic systems, and characters who are well thought out and well played. Of equal appeal to fans of historical romance and epic fantasy.