Award-winning science-fiction author Lois McMaster Bujold turns her pen to the fantasy genre, with breathtaking results.
Lord Cazaril has been in turn courier, courtier, castle-warder, and captain;
now he is but a crippled ex-galley slave making his way across a countryside
reminiscent of Renaissance Spain, hoping to beg a warm hearth and a scullions
position from the noble patroness of his youth. But Fortunes wheel continues
to turn for Cazaril, and he finds himself in short order promoted to the
exalted and dangerous position of secretary-tutor to the Iselle, the beautiful,
fiery sister of the heir to Chalion's throne.
Amidst the decaying splendor and poisonous intrigue of Chalion's ancient fortress capitol, Cazaril encounters both old enemies and surprising allies, as he seeks to lift the curse of misfortune that clings to the royal family of Chalion, and to all who come too close to them.
While the novel can and should be appreciated as a rousing tale of romance and adventure, Bujold deftly weaves sophisticated speculation on the nature of free will and destiny in the guise of an intriguing mythology, underpinned by a constant subtle evocation of potent symbolic archetypes. Chalion is a beautifully constructed world, both warmly familiar and achingly distant; it breaths hints of shores yet unseen, stories yet to be told, without burdening the reader with a weary litany of exotic names and historical background. Supernatural power and events are carefully derived from the intrinsic nature of the world, displaying the simple inevitability of a chemical reaction with consequences just as devastating. Bujold, justly celebrated for her complex characterization, excels in her portrayal of the observant, sardonic, devoted Cazaril, and provides him with a rich and appealing cast of supporting characters. She deftly avoids the twin temptations of making her heroes too nobly pure or her villains too blackly malevolent, allowing even the smallest character to emerge as recognizably human. For, with all the her grand canvas of nations and gods and fates, it is humanity in all its shame and glory that Bujold celebrates, and readers will be swept along to rejoice in their own.
Very possibly a masterpiece.
© 2000 by Lesley Knieriem
Added to The Bujold Nexus: December 5th 2000
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Last updated: November 20th 2002