I have to admit that it was with reluctance that finally decided to read Lois McMaster Bujold's first attempt at fantasy. Very few authors can make the jump between fantasy and scifi, and maintain the high quality for which their books are known in their genre of predilection. Stephen R. Donaldson is one writer who has managed to do that. L. E. Modesitt, jr. is another. But for some reason, I had nagging doubts concerning Bujold.
The advance praise received by this novel was eloquent. Defying comprehension, it was somehow nominated for best novel for both the Hugo and the World Fantasy Awards. And yet, after nearly 5 years, very few "mainstream" fantasy fans have read this book. How could something supposedly so good be so little known?
I have read nothing but rave reviews for Bujold's scifi novels. And I am persuaded that she deserves the praise. However, how The Curse of Chalion ended up on the final ballot for those aforementioned awards is, in my humble opinion, quite a mystery. It's not that The Curse of Chalion is a bad book. Far from it. But it is nowhere near as good as they try to make it sound.
Lois McMaster Bujold is a gifted writer. Her prose is above the norm in today's market. The narrative flows quite easily. But I found the dialogues lacking throughout the novel. Several times while I was reading, I continued to tell myself that this felt like a YA (Young Adult) book. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, given the immense market for such novels and series. To me, however, most facets of this tale did not live up to the hype that surrounds this author.
The worldbuilding is particularly weak and leaves a lot to be desired. This is not a work that resonates with much depth, I'm afraid. Hence, after reading books by Neal Stephenson, R. Scott Bakker, Robin Hobb and Katherine Kurtz, the universe contained between the pages of this volume left me wanting for a lot more. Contrary to what someone called a «beautifully layered world,» I found that the story takes place in a mostly static environment.
The pace is also a major factor. The storytelling is at times sluggish, making you wonder what the author is trying to convey. But that is not true for the entire novel. For the most part, The Curse of Chalion reads easily. Too easily, to tell the truth.
The characterizations are nothing special. Cazaril is the sole three-dimensional character. It would have been interesting to see Bujold work a little more on the rest of the characters which populate this tale. The potential was definitely there, but seldom exploited. With just a little more effort in that particular area, the book would have been much more enjoyable. As it was, no character but Cazaril underwent character growth that is worth mentioning. For the better part of the book, it felt as if I was reading a Forgotten Realms novel. . .
The main plot and the subplots form a very linear storyline. This is no multi-layered fantasy epic. Personally, I prefer convoluted plotlines and a lot of mystery. But I am aware that there is a multitude of readers out there who will find The Curse of Chalion satisfying because it has an easy-to-follow storyline. But for a novel that was nominated for both the Hugo and the World Fantasy Awards, I was expecting a little more than this linear storyline. . .
The curse and how it affects the royal family and those close to them was interesting. Although, again, I believe that there was potential for more. For me, the most interesting facet of this tale is how Cazaril is God-touched and how it has repercussions throughout the book.
All in all, not a bad book. It's just that The Curse of Chalion doesn't live up to the hype. My biggest disappointment is that nothing stands out, nothing shines through. Reading this novel has left me totally indifferent. . .
The final verdict: 6.5/10