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

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