"The Curse of Chalion"'s protagonist, Cazaril, finds himself unexpectedly in the role of secretary to the fiercely independent royesse Iselle of Chalion. While his work mainly consists of managing her household and teaching her at rural Valenda, things take a turn for the worse when her elder brother Orico calls her and their younger brother Teidez back to the capital Cardegoss to name Teidez his rightful heir to the throne. Cazaril and Iselle find themselves wrapped tightly in a net of intrigue - with a deadly curse looming ever threatening above the royal family.
"Curse of Chalion" is a very interesting story, set in a medieval world where just as much attention is paid to the daily routine than to the 5 gods that seem to influence everything. However, this novel didn't quite manage to captivate me, it didn't have me on the edge of my seat, yearning for the next chapter and biting my nails if I didn't get to reading it at once. Quite frankly, the first 100 to 150 pages even drag out a bit until Cazaril returns to Cardegoss and the final 150 pages don't quite make up for that unfortunately.
Cazaril is the typical anti-hero, world-weary, handicapped by a torturous imprisonment, who just hoped to find some peaceful work when he returns to Valenda only to be appointed Iselle's secretary and thus be thrown into the middle of unsolved issues from his past along with new problems. Of course, it seems to be Bujold's favourite theme to turn physically incapacitated people into heroes - not by denying their physical frailties but by showing that heroes are made of far more than physical strength. Equally, Iselle is stepping out of the boundaries set for women by society by taking her fate into her own hands, thus giving Cazaril the incentive to gather up his own courage and fight for what is right.
To be honest, I can't really pinpoint why this book doesn't have me yearning for more. The characterization is at Bujold's usual high level, the story is interesting enough... but, unfortunately, it didn't quite manage to get me involved on a more emotional level.
review originally written in 2005.