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The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
Review by SSI chose this book because I liked the cover. It turned out to be nothing like what I expected it would be like, judging by the cover.
The nation of Chalion, ruled by the ailing Roya Orico and his Royina Sara. Various cities within Chalion: Valenda, Cardegoss. The neighbouring nation of Ibra. Geography and politics matter a great deal here, which reminds me of Guy Gavriel Kay.
Cazaril, a man who has just escaped from a slave galley and seeks work within the Provincara's household. Iselle, the Royesse and Teidez, the Royse who are half-sister and half-brother to the heirless Orico. Betriz, lady-in-waiting to Iselle. Dondo, a lord who holds a grudge against Cazaril, and means to have revenge.
Cazaril finds himself in the position of Iselle's secretary, and subsequently enmeshed in the intricacies of court life. He discovers that there is a curse upon the royal family of Chalion, and vows to break the curse to prevent it from hurting Iselle. The five gods, The Father, Mother, Daughter, Son and Bastard are as real as the mortal men and women...there is no doubt as to their existence, so miracles are a part of life.
After the first third or so of the book, when events pick up, Curse is an interesting read. McMaster Bujold presents many ideas in regards to polytheism, and religion in general, which are thought-provoking. Cazaril is human, which is nice, although he does have the tendency to be a bit too dim-witted when it suits McMaster Bujold. I expected this to be like David Gemmell's works, but it's probably more like Janny Wurts (another "The Curse of..." writer) or Guy Gavriel Kay (but Kay is better). This is a stand-alone book, and for awhile I was wondering how she was going to pull off the ending, but it worked out ok.
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