I guess it’s just my luck that I finally find a completed series, only to learn that it’s not truly a series. The three books take place in the same world, and the first two share a few characters, but that’s about it.That’s not a bad thing, since they each stand on their own, and don’t leave you with any annoying loose ends. This trilogy has been on my to-read list forever, since a number of my fellow Game of Thrones/Dune/Lord of the Rings fans have recommended them.
Overall, I liked, but did not love. The world- a kind of fantasy Renaissance Spain- was pretty intriguing, and the protagonists of the first two books were very compelling. The writing was good, though the pace was rather slow and it took me quite a while to get into each book. I have a high tolerance for slow pacing (I’ve been known to read Henry James and like it- mostly), so if you’re looking for non-stop action, you probably want to look elsewhere.
The Curse of Chalion follows the adventures of Cazaril, a warrior who is at the end of a very difficult period of his life. His fortunes seem to turn around when his is appointed tutor to the teenage Royesse Iselle, a bright young woman just a few heartbeats from the throne of Chalion. Cazaril quickly develops an intense loyalty to Iselle, not least because of her very appealing lady-in-waiting Betriz. Thirty-five-year old Cazaril lusting over 16/17-year-old Betriz was a bit creepy, but at least Cazaril knew he was being creepy, and was pretty convinced she’d never be interested in him. So of course, he’s wrong.
In a desperate attempt to rescue Iselle from a horrid fate, Cazaril engages in some black magic that backfires on him, saddling him with a demon-ghost he has to carry around for most of the book. The setup of the story was slow- I was about a quarter of the way in before things really got interesting, but then they got very interesting. The ending was almost a little too tidy, and post-demon Cazaril is somewhat annoying, but that could just be my personal taste.
Paladin of Souls was my favorite of the three. It takes place about three years after the events in the first book and follows the adventures of Ista, the former Royina (Queen, I guess) of Chalion, and Iselle’s mother. Poor Ista has had a very difficult life and now everyone thinks she’s crazy. She’s coddled within inches of her life, but finally finds a way to break out and have a bit of adventure. Then she gets it in spades.
Ista is a very enjoyable character- Bujold seems to specialize in these damaged, middle-aged protagonists and does them very well. There’s a bit more romance int his one, but it goes delightfully unconventionally, and is resolved in a satisfying and plausible way. The climax is especially exciting.
There’s a bit too much sword and sorcery-style action for my taste, but that’s just me. I like my magic minimal or non-existent, and there is quite a bit in this world. Aside from that, my main quibble would be that Ista figures out how to use her gifts a little too quickly to be believed. Considering the lugubrious pace in general, you’d think she’d get more time to come to terms with what she’s learned and figure out how to use it. As it is, she goes from nothing to advanced in what seems like seconds.
The Hallowed Hunt takes place in the same general world of Chalion, but is across the sea, in an English-style culture. Otherwise, it’s almost a completely different world, and it’s hard to say if it even takes place in the same era as the previous two books. Compared to Cazaril and Ista, Ingrey is a pretty dull protagonist, and his love interest, Lady Ijada, isn’t much better.
After the other two,I expected an initially slow pace, but this one never really got going. And while the others spent a lot of time on the complex religion, this one got a lot more in-depth and included an earlier, native belief system. Generally, it was just boring. If I had picked it up first, I might not have finished it, but since I’d liked the first two, I decided to power through.
Of course, the writing was strong and the world imaginatively realized- it just lacked the compelling protagonists, suspense and action of the others.
I’m glad I finally read these, and can say that if you like high fantasy, you’ll probably at least like- if not love- these.