Review of The Curse Of Chalion By Lois McMaster Bujold

Fantasy Audiobooks - The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster BujoldThe Curse Of Chalion
By Lois McMaster Bujold; Read by Lloyd James
15 CDs – Approx 19.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Published: 2004
ISBN: 0786185988
Themes: / Fantasy / High Fantasy / Court Intrigue / Politics / Religion / Magic / Romance /

Lord Cazaril has been, in turn, courtier, castle-warder, and captain; now he is but a crippled ex-galley slave seeking nothing more than a menial job in the kitchens of the Dowager Provincara, the noble patroness of his youth. But Cazaril finds himself promoted to the exalted and dangerous position of tutor to Iselle, the beautiful, fiery sister of the heir to Chalion’s throne.

Cazaril was a lord and a soldier of Chalion, but that was before he was sold into slavery. Years later, having been freed by chance of war, it is a broken Cazaril, a traumatized shell of his former proud self, who walks away. He’s learned the lessons of a slave, to expect nothing and hope for little. So when this cowed former lord
begs for a place in minor noble’s household he is surprised to be appointed not to simple kitchen duties but instead as tutor to a young princess of the realm. From the start of The Curse Of Chalion our sympathies are with Lord Cazaril. Not only is he a figure of tremendous suffering, but his situation is made still worse by the fact that he has smarts enough to know just how far he’s fallen. But the rub comes more from the fact that his sudden appointment will doubtless draw the attention of those who betrayed him to the life of a slave and who may seek to more permanently dispose of him. Not only must Cazaril educate the young princess, he must also somehow stave off the powerful forces in league against him while breaking an ancient curse placed upon his charge, the heir to Chalion’s throne. His new responsibilities requires nothing less.

Lois McMaster Bujold is best known for her Miles Vorkosigan science fiction novels, which if you haven’t read them are space opera at their most operatic. What Bujold did there for space opera then, she now does here for fantasy with The Curse Of Chalion, the start of a whole new fantasy series. And what a challenge it is! She’s built an entirely new world with the very best kind of magic – magic with rules and consequences. And this thing has backstory too. Chalion is not just some neo-Tolkien rip off, that uses the tropes you’ve come to expect in order to tell some slight variation on an old and tired tale. Quite the contrary, it is a fully fleshed out fantasy setting with a fascinating and well thought out religion that plays a central role in the unfolding of the story. Also of note is an unexpected mention of one character’s homosexuality – while it plays little role in the plot proper it is a refreshing touch that symbolizes the modern and realistic approach Bujold taken in constructing her world. Chalion is chock full of motivated and interesting characters, classic political machinations, two genuine romances, surprising plot twists and everyone’s favorite theme, betrayal. This is the equivalent of a seven-course meal for any audiobook listener – and it isn’t even too long compared to most fantasy novels published these days.

I truly enjoyed this tale. It is really good stuff and that is mostly due, I think, to Bujold working with some really fascinating ideas, not the least of which is one scene which postulates a way to reconcile the idea of both human free will and the will of the gods – determinacy – that pesky problem of fate. Even better is that it isn’t one that I’d heard of before – heady cool stuff! The few sins Bujold commits are minor and might be virtues in many listener’s ears – there are a just a few places where the pace flagged and the action sequences were few and brief – though they really are more realistic than we have come to expect with fantasy. The Curse Of Chalion is likely to become one of the most beloved of medieval fantasy novels of the early 21st century. This story has genuine surprises, its own internal logic, and intelligent, thoughtful characters who are genuinely fun to hang out with. I really liked it!

Blackstone Audiobooks has made The Curse Of Chalion available in several formats: A 13 cassette, (retail or library packaged) audiobook, a 15 CD (retail or library packaged) audiobook and 2-disc CD-MP3 set. We review here the CD version and this is the first Blackstone Audio CD set I’ve ever tired. I’d always preferred the cassette format in the past but I’m really pleased with the simplicity of Blackstone’s design and track spacing. The library set, pictured above comes in the attractive and durable plastic case, with a full color paper insert cover. The cover art here is inspired by the hardcover’s original art, and though they are similar I think the Blackstone’s version is even more attractive! Reader Lloyd James does a marvelous job with the exposition; he gives many regional accents to the numerous characters and plays the three main female characters with three slightly variant falsettos – no small feat. I can honestly say, fans of both Bujold and original fantasy tales can rejoice, The Curse Of Chalion and this Blackstone Audiobook are everything you’ve been looking for!

Posted by Jesse Willis

The Hugo Awards were given yesterday (September 4,…

SFFaudio News

The Hugo Awards were given yesterday (September 4, 2004) and here are the results:

Best Novel: Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold

Best Novella: “The Cookie Monster” by Vernor Vinge

Best Novelette: “Legions in Time” by Michael Swanwick

Best Short Story: “A Study in Emerald” by Neil Gaiman

Best Related Book: The Chesley Awards for Science Fiction and Fantasy Art: A Retrospective by John Grant, Elizabeth L. Humphrey, and Pamela D. Scoville

Best Dramatic Presentation, short form: Gollum’s Acceptance Speech at the 2003 MTV Movie Awards

Best Dramatic Presentation, long form: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Best Professional Editor: Gardner Dozois

Best Professional Artist: Bob Eggleton

Best Semiprozine: Locus, Charles N. Brown, Jennifer A. Hall, and Kirsten Gong-Wong, eds.

Best Fanzine: Emerald City, Cheryl Morgan, ed.

Best Fan Writer: Dave Langford

Best Fan Artist: Frank Wu

A big surprise to me was that Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form award. Gollum’s Acceptance Speech? Come on, people. The Firefly episode entitled “The Message” was deserving of the award. If you get a chance to see that series, do! You won’t be disappointed – it’s excellent, and available on DVD. A feature film is in the works.

The only item here represented on audio (or about to be represented on audio) is Lois McMaster Bujold’s Paladin of Souls. Blackstone Audio has published the first volume in that series, entitled The Curse of Chalion, and will publish Paladin of Souls soon.

Congratulations to all the nominees and award winners!

Posted by Scott D. Danielson

Review of Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold

Science Fiction Audiobooks - Falling Free by Lois McMaster BujoldFalling Free
By Lois McMaster Bujold; Read by Michael Hanson and Carol Cowan
7 Cassettes – 9 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: The Reader’s Chair
Published: 1996
ISBN: 0962401099
Themes: Science Fiction / Genetic Engineering / Slavery / Space Travel /

Wikipedia defines Space Opera as “a subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes romantic adventure, faster-than-light travel and space battles where the main storyline is interstellar conflict.” A fair definition, I think. I also think that this definition of Space Opera is what most folks outside of science fiction fandom would accept as a definition of the whole genre of science fiction. The perception is both well-earned and difficult to fight since nearly every successful science fiction film and television series fits that definition of Space Opera. I’ve expressed several times how I wish that perception wasn’t true, because I enjoy only so much of this kind of SF. I like my science fiction to have meat on the bones, and there is plenty of that around in written SF. Enough, in fact, that the average Space Opera doesn’t even have to be on the menu.

Of course, there are the exceptions and Lois McMaster Bujold is one of them. She’s the author of the Vorkosigan series of novels – an extremely well-written series which proves that Space Opera can be done well. Falling Free is a Nebula-award winning novel in a series that has also picked three Hugos. The story, which takes place 200 years before the other books, involves a company that genetically engineers a new race of humans (Quaddies) that is uniquely adapted for work in zero-gravity. Enter Leo Graf, an engineer hired to teach zero-g welding techniques to this new race of slave labor. Think you know where this is heading? Bujold pulls it off brilliantly.

The audio version of this book is another exception. It’s performed by two narrators – Michael Hanson and Carol Cowan. They swap narrating duties with changes in the story’s point of view – a technique I first heard in this audiobook and that I find very effective. The two narrators also perform some conversations together during the story, somewhat like an audio drama. This is something I have found to be extremely INeffective in other audiobooks I’ve heard since this one, but here I enjoyed their interplay and didn’t experience the jarring effect that I’ve felt in other books that have attempted the same technique.