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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. ^^
After Nightfallafter_nightfall on December 27th, 2007 10:04 pm (UTC)
Oh, definitely, the bad guys were a low point for me too. If Martou dy Jironal was somewhat convincing (but only somewhat), I was seriously underwhelmed with Dondo's motivations.

Iselle's high point was when she was listing qualities she expected of her husband: same religion, and healthy. Now there's a sensible fantasy princess! :-)
Anne-Elisaetrangere on December 27th, 2007 10:10 pm (UTC)
True, I do like sensibility in a fantasy princess XD
an absolute word tart!schemingreader on December 27th, 2007 11:27 pm (UTC)
Do you know the book The Practical Princess? It was a picture book for children in the US in the 1970s, so it would be astonishing if you said yes! The princess rescues her prince, and the first thing she does after she has liberated her captive prince is to have him shave his beard and cut his hair.

Isn't that what happens at the end of this novel between Caz and Beatriz? (I think I've misspelled her name, sorry!)
Anne-Elisaetrangere on December 27th, 2007 10:10 pm (UTC)
I tend to have a prejudice agains the rebellious princess archetype in fantasy, I admit, and it's true that Iselle is much better and more real than most of those characters. However she never truely came to life for me, that's what I meant. She serves the story, but she lacks her own dynamic IMHO. Especially compared to the more awesome Ista (I'm influenced by the fact she's on forefront in Paladins of Souls though) and the Provincara.

I didn't think about the bad guys too much, as for me they were just advancing the story, heh. ^^
My point exactly. They were plot devices more than characters in their own right ^^
Diana Moondizilla on December 28th, 2007 07:08 am (UTC)
Oh certainly, her mother Ista seemed more interesting. I was hoping midway we would see her more and glad she showed up near the end. Good to know she gets a book of her own. ^_^

I think for this kind of story, it was fine that the villains were in the back since there really was no room to have them grow or for us to get to feel for them. But I can definitely understand the frustration of them being the way they were.
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.
an absolute word tart!schemingreader on December 27th, 2007 10:52 pm (UTC)
(Or I guess I should say, on other issues in addition to gender and disability.)
Anne-Elisaetrangere on December 27th, 2007 10:53 pm (UTC)
that's an interesting point. What sort of egalitarianism do you mean, then?
an absolute word tart!schemingreader on December 27th, 2007 11:05 pm (UTC)
Well, in the Vorkosigan books, Miles is obsessed with who is Vor and what it means to be Vor. Here also, there is a nobility and a peasantry, but our Cazaril has been through this terrible experience as a galley slave and has stopped caring about rank. He still knows the rules of behavior according to rank, he knows how a courtier should act, etc. but he no longer believes that a person has more worth according to his rank.

He actually says this a couple of times in the text (and my copy is where to show you? I might have to come back later with page numbers). In some ways this is atypically clunky of Bujold. In the Vorkosigan saga, and before, she does a lot of really good stuff about cloning and who is human, and also about physical difference, and she doesn't seem to feel like she has to put the lessons into the mouths of the characters in quite this way. what were the genetically modified people in her early book in the 1980s? The Quaddies. The Quaddies are incredibly perfect, sweet people with a lot family instinct, etc. etc.--well, I guess she does actually have her protagonist say things like "they're just kids. " Oh well, maybe it's typically clunky, not atypically.

What I mean is, she has Caz SAY these things, but of course we mainly focus on people of rank. I guess the character of the groom is an exception...
Anne-Elisaetrangere on December 27th, 2007 11:16 pm (UTC)
I wonder if it's that's simple. The issues of who is human, physical differences etc., are still very hot issues in our society. But nobility? Well, in the US at least, it's kinda not very relevant anymore (and she's not exploring that as classes either, so I don't think she's trying for something marxist), so is Cazaril saying this for our sake? That wouldn't make any sense. So either it's a clunky way to establish her characterization or... well I'm not sure.

The Quaddies were very awful though XD I hope she's capable of better now.

Although you're right it's still mainly people of rank (which is true of the Vorkosigan series as well anyway).
Oryoscriva on December 28th, 2007 03:20 pm (UTC)
I think having a protagonist who thinks more like us as far as equality in society is concerned is a mean to make this society accessible to us, as a modern reader. It's very usual in many fiction set in a pre-modern setting that the characters the reader should sympathise with think like modern persons. However, by giving Cazaril his back story, Bujold gave her character a believable mindset, instead of just making him the only enlightened person by a simple whim.

an absolute word tart!schemingreader on December 28th, 2007 04:37 pm (UTC)
This is a good point. In the Vorkosigan series, she has Miles confront the tension between his mother's and his father's views of hereditary nobility and democracy--but he's still a noble. We have the same here--we get to have our cake and eat it too.
an absolute word tart!schemingreader on December 27th, 2007 11:07 pm (UTC)
Also, Bujold (and le Guin, as well) have gotten better about being overtly in favor of gay rights. In fact she's actually a little smoother about the gay thing here, she just works a couple of m/m love pairings into the backstory with no nodding or winking.
Anne-Elisaetrangere on December 27th, 2007 11:11 pm (UTC)
Agreed. LeGuin has hers as a main character though, so she wins ^^
an absolute word tart!schemingreader on December 27th, 2007 11:21 pm (UTC)
I think they were both pro-gay rights in their earlier books, the climate for this kind of writing has just improved a lot.
After Nightfall: gargoyle by enrianaafter_nightfall on December 28th, 2007 10:50 am (UTC)
On egalitarianism in Chalion: I'm glad that Cazaril was "cured" of his rather sexist perception that a woman marries out of the family, but a man brings a woman into his family - as pertaining to the curse, of course, but the implication is also that having Bergon and Iselle join families as equals, for better or for worse, is a welcome remove from tradition.
an absolute word tart!schemingreader on December 28th, 2007 12:36 pm (UTC)
Right, but it's Iselle's idea to do it that way.

I don't think it's Cazaril's sexism that makes him think that way--Challion is apparently a patrilocal society. Patrilocal and patriarchal--which is why Iselle wasn't in line for the throne until her younger brother died.
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.)