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27 December 2007 @ 12:59 pm
The Curse of Chalion Discussion #1: First Impressions  
Hello and welcome to booklog_sff's first discussion! I hope everyone had a wonderful time reading (or in some cases rereading) Lois McMaster Bujold's The Curse of Chalion.

Let's begin with some basics.

What were your first impressions of the book?

Were there things that you liked immediately? Disliked?

Did the main character, Lupe dy Cazaril, interest you from the start?

This post may be edited after some input.
Current Mood: excitedexcited
Anne-Elisa: asoiafetrangere on December 27th, 2007 09:18 pm (UTC)
My first own impression.

I first read this book a few years ago, and I re-read it a couple of months ago (so my memory isn't totally sharp, but still pretty fresh).

One of the main thing that struck me in this book is the main character, how untraditionnal for a fantasy series he was. He's not just aging jaded hero (which would be archetypal), he's deeply scared by the war and enslavement, and what's most striking from first is how humbled he was by the whole ordeal he was. He looks pathetic and miserable, and is forced to endure humiliation from the very beginning. Although he was a soldier, and retains some competence in that field, it's never those manly qualities which are put on the forefront. I found that very fresh and original, and an interesting way to deal with the story.
I was also very intrigued by the elements of world building going into the Quintine religion. The archetypes of Father, Mother, Son, Daughter and Bastard are fun to play with, and the specifics of the Bastard's prayer (death magic which is not magic at all) was in particular a great idea. I found the follow up of the prophecy slightly less interesting, although it was cutely clever. I'm not entirely sure about how I feel about the gods' involvement in their society, but it's interesting metaphysics ^^

One the things I liked less, I found the pacing often uneven, with a rather slow beginning. The bad guys were stereotypically - if not unbelievably - evil and not very interesting. I'm not sure how I feel about Iselle. She's not unlikeable, but she's kinda bland.
Diana Moon: World is Blackdizilla on December 27th, 2007 09:33 pm (UTC)
I liked Iselle, more so than either of her brothers. Usually when it comes to female royals, they tend to be either daft or highly intelligent from the start. So it was nice to see her go grow from a typical lady of the court to one that could become a proper leader if given the chance.

I didn't think about the bad guys too much, as for me they were just advancing the story, heh. ^^
(no subject) - after_nightfall on December 27th, 2007 10:04 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - etrangere on December 27th, 2007 10:10 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - schemingreader on December 27th, 2007 11:27 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - etrangere on December 27th, 2007 10:10 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - dizilla on December 28th, 2007 07:08 am (UTC) (Expand)
an absolute word tart!schemingreader on December 27th, 2007 10:51 pm (UTC)
Bujold is very interested in the qualities of leadership. I noticed this reading the Vorkosigan saga for the first time this year. One aspect of her male heroes that Cazaril exemplifies perfectly is the old soldier who understands that women have the intellect and courage to be groomed for leadership. There's a moment when he's tutoring Iselle when she reacts like one of his officers, and he feels relieved that she's going to be just like one of his men.

Bujold is a very strange sort of feminist.

In this book she's more interested in egalitarianism on other axes than gender and physical difference.
(no subject) - schemingreader on December 27th, 2007 10:52 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - etrangere on December 27th, 2007 10:53 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - schemingreader on December 27th, 2007 11:05 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - etrangere on December 27th, 2007 11:16 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - scriva on December 28th, 2007 03:20 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - schemingreader on December 28th, 2007 04:37 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - schemingreader on December 27th, 2007 11:07 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - etrangere on December 27th, 2007 11:11 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - schemingreader on December 27th, 2007 11:21 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - after_nightfall on December 28th, 2007 10:50 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - schemingreader on December 28th, 2007 12:36 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Oryoscriva on December 28th, 2007 08:32 am (UTC)
I sort of liked Iselle. I found her set-up interesting, as someone who grows into her role. However, she is more a potential than a real character.

I agree with you about the bad guys, including Teidez. (Who is not exactly evil, but also not very well-developped.)
Diana Moon: Found Serenitydizilla on December 27th, 2007 09:30 pm (UTC)
I'd have to agree a bit with etrangere, it does have a bit of a slow beginning and it's one of the first things I noticed. It's not too slow, as I didn't have to force myself into turning the pages, which was nice. I enjoyed within the first few chapters we're given hints about the world beyond and the history that poor Cazaril had been through. We also immediately get a taste of how his mind works, as humbling as it is, and can see were it may lead to.

The pacing at times reminded me of Deathly Hollows, in which it would jump head and still have not much going on that was too interesting. Granted, we were to be introduced to how court life was languid in the beginning and then how tricky it got when the Royes went to visit Orico.

I did love the religion that was created with it centered around family. Each deity had their own interesting story and loyalties. It would have been nice to have learned of the other religious sects that were mostly just hinted at.

Overall, it was quite different from the normal fantasy that interests me, but I'm glad to have gotten a chance to read it.
Anne-Elisa: dance with meetrangere on December 27th, 2007 10:12 pm (UTC)
It would have been nice to have learned of the other religious sects that were mostly just hinted at.
It's worth pointing out that it's a series (although each book is independant), there's already been Paladins of Souls and Hallowed Hunt which deal more specifically with other gods and other fun metaphysical facts. I think she's planning a series of 5, one for each god.
Diana Moondizilla on December 28th, 2007 07:10 am (UTC)
That would make sense, to have a quintet. I'll definitely see about picking up the other two out. I really enjoyed everything that was related to the mythos of the deities.
an absolute word tart!schemingreader on December 27th, 2007 10:57 pm (UTC)
I want to talk about the ways that Bujold treats religion here, and in her Vorkosigan books, and also about how Challion and The Telling each deal with religion. Obviously I'm getting ahead of the program here.

In the Vorkosigan saga, there are hints about religious belief. Cordelia is a believer (though in what exactly, we don't know.) Here we have a world in which the gods are real, and a person can be arrested for attempting to bring down their power to kill another. I thought this was a departure from her other work. In Vorkosigan, we admired some religious beliefs as potentiating ethical/admirable behavior--here, they are indistinguishable from valor itself. If you are a soldier in the service of the gods, then your devotion to your job is entirely worship.

It's kind of medieval, actually.
(no subject) - etrangere on December 27th, 2007 11:09 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - schemingreader on December 27th, 2007 11:22 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - etrangere on December 27th, 2007 11:24 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - dizilla on December 28th, 2007 07:12 am (UTC) (Expand)
After Nightfall: scribbling seriously by emmavescenceafter_nightfall on December 27th, 2007 09:57 pm (UTC)
I'll post this without reading anyone else's comments because I don't want to deny myself the inevitable facepalming. :-)

My first impression of the book was of the writing style, which I liked. It gave a comfortable impression that the narrative was going to flow well. Unlike some other books, we're not dumped in the middle of the action, but Bujold also fortunately managed to avoid infodumping in the first chapter (I was thinking: I swear, if she infodumps, I'm throwing the book at a wall!).

Not sure that there was anything I disliked immediately... Oh, yeah. You stupid bathhouse man, stop being mean to poor Cazaril! :-p What I really, really liked right at first was the main character not being a teenager, or even in his twenties. I'm quite tired of all the coming-of-age stories... sometimes it's nice to see an already formed person, and how they got to be the way they are.

I certainly didn't dislike Lupe, but I was wondering what in the world could have happened to him to have made him so tired, inside and out, without pretensions and without expectations.
an absolute word tart!schemingreader on December 27th, 2007 11:00 pm (UTC)
are you still in the middle of reading the book? I don't want to spoil you.
(no subject) - after_nightfall on December 28th, 2007 10:42 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - schemingreader on December 28th, 2007 12:37 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Diana Moondizilla on December 28th, 2007 07:16 am (UTC)
Yes, it was certainly a comfortable way to begin, that way we wouldn't get confused by all the political intrigue that's constantly going on in such kingdoms.

I too liked moving away from the cliched coming-of-age protagonist, and coming upon someone slightly older and having experienced too much for his own good.
Stasiastasia on December 27th, 2007 10:44 pm (UTC)
Interesting. I didn't find the beginning at all slow - but I liked that I could get to know Lupe before we got into the meat of the story. Plus, I think that if we don't know who Iselle is, and understand how her personality differs from Teidez's, we won't really see how she grows into the role she has later.

I like Caz, and I'd like to know him. I found him likeable on first read, and on every single re-reading; I appreciate a man who can *think* rather than just waggle his sword at things.

I think the part I like the most, though, is the religion. The way it's both distant from people and yet a quiet part of their lives - it was/is a refreshing change from the demands of blind faith so often required by other religions.

an absolute word tart!schemingreader on December 27th, 2007 10:59 pm (UTC)
Well, of course the religion doesn't demand blind faith, because she's created a set of circumstances in which there is personal and collective revelation. It's cheating! IRL, most people don't get to have those kinds of experiences. You don't have to make a law in the United States punishing attempts to pray someone to death. (Which in this universe are only punishable as crimes if they do not work, because if they do work it proves that they were the will of the god.)
Sakanagi: Utena shadow girlssakanagi on December 28th, 2007 03:32 pm (UTC)
but I liked that I could get to know Lupe before we got into the meat of the story

That's a good point. I think that Cazaril's interesting characterisation more or less carried the book along its way, so even though the beginning might seem slow to some (myself included, to a certain extent) it really was necessary.
an absolute word tart!schemingreader on December 27th, 2007 11:39 pm (UTC)
(dizilla! You are the single most prolific commenter on Snupin Santa and my hero.)

I think I haven't answered the right question in my comments below. You want first impressions of the book, and I gave my impressions of the novel as a whole.

The hero interested me from the start because he was broken and cynical and dealing with disgrace. Now, it's true that Bujold starts a lot of her stories this way--but I still like it. It took me a few scenes to understand just how far he had fallen.

I think there are certain things that Bujold likes in a hero. Below I mentioned his leadership-fostering relationships, especially with women (especially with potential lovers.) I think she has a thing for older men with scars (physical ones, she has a real kink for that!) She made this guy just a little too good, just a little too archtypical--but I did not care.

I also knew, immediately, that he was going to fall in love with the girl on the fast horse.
Diana Moon: Diana Moondizilla on December 28th, 2007 07:23 am (UTC)
(XD *blushes* Thanks! I'm woefully behind... Hopefully I'll catch up. =3)

Yeah I have a soft spot for broken heroes, hoping they'll find the way to mend themselves. This is my first time reading Bujold, so now I know I can happily expect that type of character if I get the chance to read more of hers. ^_^

He did seem a bit too good, but I think after all that befell on him, he simply didn't have it in him to be anything but.

I also knew, immediately, that he was going to fall in love with the girl on the fast horse.

LOL! It seems I've lost my touch in figuring out the future love-interests. Personally, I'm not big on big age difference romances. I thought it would have been interesting to see him with Ista, as they were closer in age and she seemed very interesting and mysterious.

Lady Betriz wasn't a bad catch, and it was lovely how they got to fall in love with each other...
(no subject) - schemingreader on December 28th, 2007 07:43 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - schemingreader on December 28th, 2007 07:52 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - dizilla on December 28th, 2007 08:05 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - schemingreader on December 28th, 2007 08:11 am (UTC) (Expand)
Transcendancingtranscendancing on December 27th, 2007 11:45 pm (UTC)
I really enjoyed CoC, I found it a page turner and that almost before I realised it, I'd almost finished the book.

I appreciate Bujold's writing style, though in this I didn't find her overall characterisation as strong as in her Vorkosigan world. This is a shame as I love her richly coloured characters - even the minor ones.

I also loved that Caz was an older man, and one that has been broken of his nobility - I love the way he re-examines the world he's come from now that he's no longer a slave, and yet has been one in the past.

I loved that religion in this world is both distant and personal - I like that they're not expected to believe without any evidence of omnipresence... I don't like things that are set up as blind faith, it twitches my (otherwise rather formidable) suspension of disbelief.

In this book I was initially more intrigued by Ista and the Provincara, there was a potential there and I didn't find that fulfilled... not even later in Paladin of Souls with Ista as the forefront - far far clunkier than CoC.
Diana Moon: Diana Moondizilla on December 28th, 2007 07:26 am (UTC)
The first few times I sat down to read, I would notice that many hours had gone by the time I took a break. XD Books like that are fantastic, when you're just so immersed, everything else is just a blur.

It was nice not having to deal with antagonists who were acting on blind faith of the religion/practice, and how everyone could technically manipulate the religion to their likings.
Oryoscriva on December 28th, 2007 08:25 am (UTC)
What were your first impressions of the book?

I thought it had a somewhat similar set-up as Carol Berg's Transformation, even though Cazaril is already out of the worst situations compared to Carol Berg's hero who is a slave. I had problems to picture the setting, though. It felt "generic medieval" while the names suggest a Spanish setting. However, I could not combine both in my mind.

Were there things you liked immediately? Disliked?

I disliked and still dislike that you knew right from the start that Betriz' would be the hero's love interest. I hated that the bad guy was sweaty and slobbery; a bad character reflected in physical weaknesses always annoys me.

I liked that all female characters had distinctive personalities. I liked Ista, even before we know that she is not mad. (well, I never really thought her mad, just traumatised.)

Did the main character, Lupe dy Cazaril, interest you from the start?

I liked him better at the beginning than later on, because even though, a vulnerable hero is appealing. It was a bit overkill. As the story went on, I found him more boring than other characters (Iselle, Ista, Umegat, Orico, The Fox of Ibra).
Oryoscriva on December 28th, 2007 08:39 am (UTC)
I had to think about that last comment. It's not really that the hero is boring, I think he is pretty well-developped, but the second part of the book (after the ritual) felt not as well-written as the first part. It was as if Bujold presented much potential, but it was not actually fulfilled. In fact, this is true, for the other characters I mentioned as well.)

I also thought that the climax suffered a lot from the evil character being so bland.
Anne-Elisaetrangere on December 28th, 2007 01:34 pm (UTC)
It felt "generic medieval" while the names suggest a Spanish setting.
I've heard it's supposed to be a bit close to Portugal's History... I'm not sure how, though.
Sakanagi: Fakirsakanagi on December 28th, 2007 03:24 pm (UTC)
My first impression was neutral. I thought it might have potential, but from the blurb on the book jacket and the first few pages, there seemed to be a risk of it having a dull, unoriginal plot. It wasn't clear at first if it would be any good. It was necessary to wait a while before judging the book, since the start didn't give much away.

The writing style didn't seem to flow particularly smoothly at first, in my opinion, and I don't think the style changed even later on. That's not necessarily to say that it was bad, but more that it wasn't absorbing on its own account. It really needed plot activity in order to sustain it.

But one thing I did like was how quickly it was made clear that no matter what else, Cazaril wasn't a walking stereotype. An unattractive, beaten up hero, woohoo! Not a golden-locked blue eyed prince in shining armour. I was glad that he appeared to have a decent personality. So yes, I was interested in the main character. He lacked the spunk and self esteem that a usual main character might have, but he clearly wasn't stupid, and it was obvious that there was a story behind his situation.

Now that I've written out my opinion, I'll be interested to see what the previous commenters thought...
Xray Is As Xray Does: canesxraytheenforcer on December 28th, 2007 04:35 pm (UTC)
always late to the party. bah.

Anyway, I loved Lupe de Cazaril's backstory, but on the whole the book frustrated me. (I might end up mixing some of the story up with Paladin of Souls, so please forgive an old woman with a faulty memory). The especially annoying denoument in the bestiary (um, hello awesome-but-you-knew-he-was-gonna-DIE character), and, as mentioned, the rather Snidely Whiplash-ish machinations of Donde and his brother(?). Pacing was uneven, and I remember being frustrated in parts.
Oryoscriva on December 28th, 2007 06:28 pm (UTC)
I was a bit underwhelmed by the book as a whole as well, mostly because I don't think that a book should live from one character alone, while the secondary characters are not so well-developped, except a few.
mnemosyne_1 on December 30th, 2007 08:31 pm (UTC)
*staggers in to the party, extremely and unfashionably late*

But I'm here! Finally!

I really enjoyed the book overall - I stayed up until 2am on Christmas Eve reading it. The beginning was definitely slower than the ending... I get the feeling that events just kept speeding up as the book went along. It made it feel fairly realistic, to me - in real life, things are slow a lot of the time with bursts of action.

I liked Caz very much... he is terribly broken at first, but I like that we don't really know why; we just know that something terrible has happened to him. I thought the slow repair/build of himself over time was very well done.

Iselle I liked as well, with her slow development into a woman of leadership. Caz forcing her to think about her actions and decisions was an excellent scene, and I think he did a great job guiding rather than forcing.

Ista was amazing, and I'd love to read more of her. I love how, through the book, you slowly begin to understand why she is the way she is in her spells of madness and mourning. I love that the final scene was with her and Caz.

There were a few things that I really didn't like, mostly because they felt contrived. First, I didn't like that Bergon was the one that Caz saved, which meant that Bergon, of course, trusted him immediately... it felt very Deus ex Machina to me, and it was irritating.

I also felt that the relationship between Betriz and Caz was not developed well - he kisses her because he thinks he's going to die and suddenly she loves him/wants him? He feels as though he's not worthy of her and then she's insisting that they get married and he's pulling her onto his lap for a snog? Huh? Maybe others saw that relationship develop, but I certainly didn't. It was distracting to the plot, I felt, and would have been better left out.

As others said, I felt the villains of the book were underwhelming, and some of the things they did were pointless and circular. They do this because they are villains, and they are villains because they do this! Um. No. I like my villains three-dimensional, thanks.

The religion was definitely interesting, and I liked what was revealed over time, particularly with the Death Magic.

For individual scenes: I was very amused by Palli pointing out which man was Bergon for Iselle. I really liked Sara sitting for a day with Orico's body in order to secure the succession - it demonstrates her strength of mind, I think, and shows what kind of a woman she was before Dondo and others broke her.

Like I said, overall I really enjoyed the book, and will probably dig up the sequels somewhere. :)