The Curse of Chalion: a slightly fevered review
There are books which you remember not so much for their content, but because they were with you when you really needed them. I, for example, will probably always remember Temerarie by Naomi Novik, because I read it while on leave, dealing with a, thankfully false, possibly terminal diagnosis. On a smaller but similar scale, I will probably always misremember The Curse of Chalion.
Over the weekend, I was ill. I won’t go into the disgusting details, but you can perhaps imagine me, late at night, exhausted, nauseous and feverish, unable to sleep. I loved Lois McMaster-Bujold’s Vorkosigan series, so I’d started the audiobook of The Curse of Chalion, which is the first in her fantasy series. Unable to sleep, and annoyed at my other audiobooks for their rampant Mary Sueism, I tuned into this, and tried to rest.
I am sure that during the night I slept fitfully, so I’m not absolutely sure which parts of the novel I missed, and which additions I dreamed. My download was also damaged in some way, so that the story skipped around and repeated itself, apparently at random, within each chapter. This means that I cannot be certain that the events I heard were actually intended to be in the sequence I heard them. Regardless of all this, I’d like to suggest The Curse of Chalion for fantasy readers.
The Curse of Chalion is set in a realm with parallels to the Iberian peninsula before the Reconquista. I’d argue Chalion is Castile. The royal family is under a curse, which can perhaps be alleviated by a single dutiful follower, who has escaped captivity with a distant enemy, and return home a shattered husk. The theology of the book provides much of the magic, and its interest: the five gods cannot so much as move a leaf without the active will of some human, generally given through prayer. The book, at some level, examines the points where people are willing to absolutely surrender their will, and make themselves instruments in the hands of these constrained gods.
There are a couple of sequel novels, but I don’t really want to rush to the next. Some experiences are discrete in themselves, and have their impact lessened through attempts at repetition. I can’t say that I enjoyed being ill, but I can say that I took great consolation in this book, and so reading its sequel in my study with a mug of cocoa feels, in some way, inept.