I’m relistening this book and realized that I haven’t written a review of it yet. However, the Curse of Chalion is difficult book to review because anything I say won’t do justice to it. It’s a very good book; go and read it.

Even though CoC is often said to be epic fantasy, it doesn’t really feel like that to me: it centers on political intrigue, it doesn’t have violence porn, and it has only one viewpoint character who is in his mid-thirties. The magic is also quite understated. Oh and it doesn’t have a map. The last one seems to really irritate many fantasy readers.

The main character of the book is Cazaril; a former nobleman and soldier who is finally coming back to Chalion. He was a commander of a fortress in a war that Chalion lost and later a galley slave. Now he’s looking for some peace and quite and perhaps employment in the house of a Dowager Provincara. When Caz was a boy, he was one the pages in the castle but he doesn’t really expect anyone to remember him. However, the Provincara does remember and welcomes him into her home.

The Provincara’s household has quite high-born people: the Dowager Royina (queen) Ista and her two children: Teidez, who is the heir to Chalion’s throne, and his older sister Iselle. They are the grandchildren of the Provincara. Shortly, the Provincara makes Caz Iselle’s secretary-tutor. He teaches Iselle and her companion Beatriz languages and geography as well as some common sense. Iselle herself is brave, strong willed, and willing to do almost anything for the good of Chalion.

However, it becomes apparent that someone had betrayed Caz into servitude. His name should have been on the list of officers to be ransomed after the fall of the fortress but someone had deliberately left it off. Caz is content to be alive and unnoticed, however. Summer goes by lazily and Caz recovers slowly. But then the Roya (the king) of Chalion sends a summons for Teidez and Iselle to come to the court. Caz will have to follow Iselle and enter the world of dangerous politics. Many powerful lords will want Iselle as their own pawn in power games and Caz will also have his own enemies to deal with.

Cazaril is very much an atypical fantasy hero. He’s suffered terribly and as a consequence he’s very humble and loyal to people who are kind to him. He has also a lot of common sense which younger characters tend to lack. I found his attitude towards soldering to be very refreshing; he doesn’t view it as a noble profession but pretty much butchering. Because of the punishment he endured as a slave, he has problems with his back.

I also liked a lot many of the secondary characters. Caz’s best friend Palliard is, ironically, a character who would have been the main character in a more standard fantasy book (and married Iselle at the end). He’s the handsome, athletic nobleman-soldier although he’s not in his teens anymore. He’s fiercely loyal to Caz.

Umegat is also a great character. He appears first as the groom of the Roya’s menagerie but turns out to be quite a bit more. He has a great sense of humor.

Chalion is loosely based on medieval Spain but the gods and the religion make is quite different from history. This world has five gods: the Father, the Mother, the Sister, the Brother, and the Bastard. They all have their own priesthoods, feast days, holy days, and even colors. However, they can’t usually affect people directly even though they can affect animals and send dreams. Different cultures also view the gods a bit differently.

The characters discuss some of Chalion’s history but that’s directly relevant to the story and it’s not long-ago history, which is so common in fantasy, but the events of previous generation. This is also a refreshing change.

The book is a stand alone. The next book, the Paladin of Souls, takes place in Chalion but with different characters. Paladin’s main character, Ista, is a minor character in CoC.

For some reason quite a few Amazon reviewers feel compelled to compare CoC (unfavorably) with Martin’s series. I have no clue why because the only thing common to them is that they are set in a medieval fantasy setting. CoC is neither gritty nor military non-stop violence nor rape fantasy.