Saturday, July 21, 2012

Review: The Curse of Chalion

I rarely re-read books, especially fiction. Yet when I was done with my last depressing review, I found myself turning to The Curse of Chalion, for some light, optimistic reading. One of the best things about Bujold is that she comes from writing a lot of science fiction, which means that the theology and magic in the world where Chalion is set in is rigorous, and explained well: at no point does the reader feel cheated in that some weird unexplained magic is used to get characters out of a situation or just to move the plot along. At every point in the plot where magic is used, the mechanism has been already explained before, usually in some conversation that the reader had no idea was important.

This explains my satisfaction in reading the book the first time: you really do get a sense of completion and satisfaction, as well as an "aha" insight every time the author puts some previously explained mechanism of the world to work. I was curious to see how it plays the second time around.

The big flaw in the book which jumps out the second time around is that the protagonist, Cazaril, is too perfect. He has unlimited integrity, is kind even when he's pushed to the limits and betrayed, and never at any moment feels sorry for himself, but works for his employers/liege lords without ambition for himself. It really detracts from the novel on the second reading in a way it didn't on the first.

But other than that, I'm very happy to report that the book holds up well on the second reading. The plot works: there are no gaping holes in it. The universe is intelligently built, and the rules of the universe aren't subject to cheating. Even the prophecy in the book is a fair one, and the reader had ample opportunity to work it out before hand (which I did on the first reading).

Some books work as great escapism for people. This is one of the ones that do it for me: a universe in which integrity, fairness, and a sense of duty is rewarded is an extremely appealing one. If that speaks to you, read the book.

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