The Curse of Chalion – Lois McMaster Bujold

I should start this review by saying that I believe this was an ill fated expedition from the start. There are a few reasons for this. First, I rarely, if ever, read YA books. Not because they aren’t good but because they generally are not gritty enough, or have enough depth to keep me interested. This book was in the YA section of the library. Also, I really, really don’t usually read books just to “escape” reality. I’m not saying that escapist reading is a bad thing, because it’s not. One of the things that really draws me into the fantasy genre is the fact that the authors become the gods of their own worlds and the morals, lessons and messages they portray to the reader through their creations absolutely astounds me. I read fantasy because it gives me something to think about, layers for my mind to delve into. Escapist reading is just that: escape with little or no need for thought. It drives me nuts because my mind is the kind of mind who always needs something deeper to pick apart. Curse of the Chalion is an escapist type of book (in my opinion).
That being said, my review will reflect the fact that this really wasn’t my cup of tea, not because the book was terrible, but because it just didn’t fit my mold of what I usually enjoy reading. It kind of left me with a sour taste in my mouth. I realize that if I was into this kind of thing, I would probably rank this book as five stars and sing it’s praises from the rooftops. I almost feel like I shouldn’t review this book because I won’t be fair to it. I’m going to try hard to step back from the sour taste in my mouth and review it from a somewhat objective standpoint.
Bujold really is one hell of an author. She has (from what I’ve read) won a ton of well-earned awards for her superb writing. She weaves one of the most lyrical, flowing tales I’ve read in a long time. Her characters all speak and act within the “period” she’s writing about. Her story was well planned, well thought out and put together nicely.
The main issues I had were with very depthless characters and an overly predictable plot. I felt like I knew the ending as soon as I read the first hundred pages. Books like that really annoy me. The protagonist and secondary characters seemed to be purely good while the bad characters seemed to be incredibly evil. That is another feature in books that really bothers me because it seems so out of touch with reality, so unbelievable to me.
The relationship that buds between the protagonist and someone else was another point of issue I had. Most of the time romances build and you can read about attraction, how personalities draw together and other things like that. This book it seemed like the protagonist and his interest had almost nothing to back their relationship. I didn’t read anything about any growing attraction. A few points the protagonist would watch his love interest and think she’s pretty but it ended there. I really, honestly think this is one of the most poorly done romances I’ve ever read in a book. I can’t really go into it more without giving the plot away so I’ll stop griping about that issue here.
I think I should end this review before I start getting too carried away. I will say that this book has amazing reviews on and I will also say that they are well deserved. Bujold is a great author and the story is captivating and beautiful in a depthless kind of way, which isn’t bad. A lot of people read to escape reality, to experience happy endings and beautifully wrought stories. This is a book that really fits that bill. It’s a beautiful stained glass window.
If you are like me and what I’ve described above isn’t the cup of tea you ordered for your reading pleasure, I’d avoid this book. I will, however, recommend it to those who enjoy reading to escape, happy endings, romance and absolutely beautifully written prose. I will also add a warning that there is a fair amount of politics in this book, so if you enjoy politics, you will probably enjoy this book.

5 Responses

  • Jared

    I liked this book, but not as much as the overwhelmingly positive reviews on Amazon said I should've. I very much agree with your criticism – the romance feels like a strange afterthought. Almost a "reward" for the character for making it through the book in one piece.

  • Sarah

    I like how you put that. I tend to be overly critical of romance plots, in general. I just re-read this review for the first time since I posted it and I think I might have been a bit too harsh. It's in my pile of "early books I reviewed that I need to re-read and re-review."

  • Apologies for commenting to such an old review, but after reading your guest blog on Fantasy Cafe, I’d wondered if you’d tried Bujold. And now I’m awestruck: the library had this in the YA section? That’s so far off-base it’s not even funny. There’s not a single book that Bujold has written for the YA market, and to shelve it there is just… irresponsible. Whoever did that needs to be whacked upside the head.

    When I read this book in 2011, I was not quite in the middle-of-the-road with it. I likely it slightly better than average, but it had a super-duper slow start. By the end of the book, I appreciated it, and knew I’d try Bujold again, but not this series. I’d been meaning to read her SF for some time. So that’s what I tried next. I loved that, and after reading reviews for Paladin of Souls (the second book in this series) that praised the book to the heavens by reviewers I trust, I decided to go ahead and give it a shot. After all, it won the Hugo, and it also featured a female protagonist instead of a male.

    Just finished it today, and I loved it. Such a different experience than reading Curse of Chalion. Maybe because I’m already familiar with the world, or maybe because of the female protagonist (who’s a middle-aged woman, no less), or maybe I was just in a more accepting mindset. Whatever the case, this worked so well that I kind of want to go back to Curse of Chalion and see what I missed the first go-around, if that makes sense.

    Anyway, I’ll shut up. I just wanted to freak out over the YA part and let you know that I liked the second MUCH BETTER than the first. 🙂

    • BookwormBlues

      I am writing this on my phone so it will be shorter than I’d like and probably full of errors.

      I hadn’t realized this book wasn’t supposed to be YA!! That surprises me! I plan on reading mor of Bujold and I will probably reread this at a late date. I actually look forward to reading more Bujold since she’s been recommended so much recently.

      Anyway, thanks for this comment. You gave me plenty to chew on.

      • The second book of hers I read was a great gateway to her epic SF series: the omnibus CORDELIA’S HONOR. It’s got EVERYTHING: military SF, space opera, social SF, some science fiction romance… great package, and it’s two books in one.

        But if you want to stick with fantasy, I would love to hear your thoughts on PALADIN. 🙂

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