Thursday, June 21, 2012

What I read on vacation, part 2: Lois McMaster Bujold

I spent many of my formative years reading sci-fi and fantasy, but for some reason I stopped somewhere around the time my kids were born, and lost touch with the good stuff.  So I first heard of Lois McMaster Bujold just a few years ago, although she's quite prolific and has at least two dozen books in print.  Someone recommended starting with Warrior's Apprentice, which I read and enjoyed.  But for some reason it didn't inspire me to read any of her other books.

Fast forward to last year.  As you know, I do much driving--sometimes well over 500 miles a week.  So I listen to a lot of audiobooks.  While searching for a good one last fall, I ran across a bunch of five-star reviews for The Curse of Chalion.  I didn't recognize Bujold's name until later.  Curse is the intricate story of Cazaril, a military man who ended up serving for nineteen months on a slave galley after someone "accidentally" left his name off a list of soldiers to be ransomed.  The novel opens as Cazaril returns to his homeland, his body broken and scarred.  He wants to find a quiet place in his old home town to live in peace.  He is hired to be the tutor of the young royess (princess) and her lady-in-waiting.  When the royess is called to the capitol city to learn court life, they are plunged into a complex warren of political, religious, and personal intrigue.  Cazaril eventually hazards his life to rid the royal family of Chalion of a curse that has followed it for generations.

It's a brilliantly multi-layered story, but the thing that makes it so fascinating--all the detailed intrigues-- is also its major downfall.  There are several times where I just wanted to find out what happened, without needing to know all the details of history, theology, and politics.  But without all those details, the story would be far less rich.  So if you are an impatient reader, this is not the book for you.  But if you love complex world-building, Curse of Chalion is a dream.  I found myself marveling time and again, How did Bujold think of all this stuff?  It's fascinating

But then again, sometimes I am one of those impatient readers.  So I have somewhat mixed feelings about it. Definitely worth reading--great book.  But be prepared to be patient--especially at the beginning. It gets off to a slow start. (The audiobook is great, if you're interested in audiobooks-- good narrator who does a great job with all the voices-- sometimes it's hard to believe it's just one guy.) 

There was one other thing that bugged me. Cazaril, who is 35, ends up with a young, vivacious 19-year-old at the end.  It just didn't feel right to me.  After all of his travels and experiences, it just didn't seem right that he would fall for a teenager who (at the beginning of the book) has never left the town of her youth. It's a relatively small part of the story--this isn't a romance novel--so it certainly doesn't ruin the book, it just didn't feel right to me for his character.  Especially because there is another character named Ista who seemed at times to be a better fit for him.

Fortunately, Ista gets her own entire novel in the sequel, Paladin of Souls, which I read on the plane on the way back from this most recent trip.  I loved this book.  Ista has been through hell and back (as was revealed in Curse of Chalion).  The actions of Cazaril in the previous book have done much to give her a new start on life, but she is stuck in her hometown with nothing to do and nowhere to go.  A chance meeting with a group of pilgrims gives her an idea, so she sets out with a small retinue on a pilgrimage of her own. Many adventures ensue. Although it shares the occasional slowness of pace that Curse of Chalion had, I thought this was a better book than Curse. 

Ista has been touched by the gods of Chalion in her past, with disastrous results.  So when it begins to become clear that they have a new role for her to play, she is dead set against it.  She wants nothing to do with the gods and their vagaries.  But gradually it becomes clear that she cannot refuse to intervene in the lives of the people around her without hurting people she cares a great deal about, so finally she plunges back in to activity.  By the end of the book, she is one tough cookie, capable of taking on ancient, multi-layered demons and kicking their asses back to the world from which they came.  It's frustrating to read her reluctance at the beginning, but it makes sense given her past. Highly recommended.  Memorable characters, memorable problems.  I've been thinking about it ever since I finished it.

There's a third book in the series, but since apparently it doesn't have any overlapping characters with the first two, I will probably wait awhile to read it.  Since some of you are already Bujold fans, tell me your favorites!  I'm happy to have a new author.

7 comments:

  1. And I'm so happy that you found a few of my old favorites! Dorothy and Marian, ah Ellie in England and all of those yokes in Ireland....

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    1. I'm always so happy to have found a new author, and now I have several! Lots of good books to look forward to.

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  2. I think I've read every Bujold novel, so I can tell you ALL about them. The third in the Curse/Paladin series is called The Hallowed Hunt and, while quite good, isn't as good as the first two. I'm a very, very fast reader so I tend to like the length of these. I also found all the spiritual stuff fascinating. She wrote a four book series (quadroligy?) The Sharing Knife (Beguilement, Legacy, Passage, & Horizon) in which she attempted to write romance with fantasy. They are good, but too long and not enough stuff going on. Her Vorkosigan series, which really starts with Cordelia's Honor is more like space opera kind of fantasy. My favorites in the series are the first, Cordelia's Honor and Civil Campaign which is a bit of a homage to Georgette Heyer, Jane Auston and two other authors I can't think of right now. Cordelia's Honor, while full of action, gives a lot of food for thought, and Civil Campaign is truly one of the funniest books I ever read. I suspect it is better read in order than alone. The last one published, Cryoburn, while not the best in the series, does include a CD which has ALL of the other Vorkosigan books on it plus a bunch of other stuff so now I have them all on my Kindle. So if you buy that one in hardcover you get 12? books for the price of one. She's also written a stand-alone fantasy: The Spirit Ring (medieval Italy with magic). I've liked all of her books although some more than others, but she is still one of those authors whose books I will buy without questioning.

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    1. Thanks, Karen! that's very helpful.

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  3. "There was one other thing that bugged me. Cazaril, who is 35, ends up with a young, vivacious 19-year-old at the end." ------ I've had this trouble with a number of books in the romance genre. I think authors are appealing to a common fantasy among young women (I won't confess that I was ever one of them) of finding a man as protective and wise as their father is, but still very attractive and strong...........and miraculously still single.

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    1. Hi, cheery-o... not sure why I didn't see this when you posted it. This summer has been insane so far, but now it is finally starting to slow down and feel like summer (aided by the fact that it is as hot as hell at the moment). I know what you mean about the May-December thing. Sometimes it makes sense in historical context, but it rarely works for me-- Heyer has several of them (Friday's Child, Convenient Marriage) and they are my least favorite of hers. But in this one it seemed like a personality mis-match, too. to me, anyway.

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    2. Ha-- I thought I had read all of Heyer's regency novels, but while looking up the titles of those two, I found three I haven't read yet! woot! thanks! :-)

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