DNF Q&A: The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

Title: The Curse of Chalion

Author: Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: World of the Five Gods #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: DNF

The Overview: A man broken in body and spirit, Cazaril, has returned to the noble household he once served as page, and is named, to his great surprise, as the secretary-tutor to the beautiful, strong-willed sister of the impetuous boy who is next in line to rule. It is an assignment Cazaril dreads, for it will ultimately lead him to the place he fears most, the royal court of Cardegoss, where the powerful enemies, who once placed him in chains, now occupy lofty positions. In addition to the traitorous intrigues of villains, Cazaril and the Royesse Iselle, are faced with a sinister curse that hangs like a sword over the entire blighted House of Chalion and all who stand in their circle. Only by employing the darkest, most forbidden of magics, can Cazaril hope to protect his royal charge—an act that will mark the loyal, damaged servant as a tool of the miraculous, and trap him, flesh and soul, in a maze of demonic paradox, damnation, and death. -Goodreads

The Review:

When trying to make a decision on whether or not to read something, it can often be much more helpful to look at the low star ratings than the high ones. To that end I’m going to be including more DNF reviews in my lineup. I have a Q&A format here that I adapted from Nikki at (with permission), and I think it’s a great way to discuss the book constructively. Here goes:

Did you really give Curse of Chalion a chance?

I went in pretty open-minded and even liked the first chapter or so, but once I started becoming dissatisfied, it became a practice of actively looking for reasons to justify calling a DNF. This is perhaps not fair to the book, but had it been anything other than a pick for a book club I run, I’d have just set it down as soon as it became clear I wasn’t digging it. I think I made it about 35%.

Have you enjoyed other books in the same genre?

Yes! Slow-burn, politically-driven fantasy novels rank among my favorites:

Did you have certain expectations before starting it?

My expectations were hopeful but not too terribly high. I remembered the author’s Sharing Knife (I only read the first one) as a relationship-heavy book with very relaxed and flowy writing. I expected much the same here, but was hoping the romance wouldn’t be quite so prominent (it wasn’t, but it still absorbed too much of the narration for my tastes). I’d also heard so many great things about her scifi Vorkosigan series that I was hoping she was consistently good all around.

What ultimately made you stop reading?

Ultimately, it came down to the childlike, irrational decisions made by the characters. For a novel that was supposed to be ALL about the characters and the politics, the characters came across every surface-level and their actions basic. The politics were equally simple. She lost my faith in her ability to give me something of substance early on and I didn’t find anything to convince me otherwise as I kept reading. None of the happenings in how these characters behaved was realistic to me, and in comparison to dozens of other fantasy novels with similar elements, this one came across very juvenile.

Is there anything you liked about the Curse of Chalion?

The character profiles at the beginning were fun, but they never evolved past just being just profiles. The first chapter was great. The writing was fluid. That’s about it.

Would you read anything else by the author?

I’m still holding out for Vorkosigan, but my enthusiasm has waned considerably. I’m definitely now at peace with not continuing with any of her fantasy works.

So you DNFed the book. Would you still recommend it?

That strongly depends on how well I can gage what someone wants out of a fantasy novel. If it’s a relaxing, easy read, this one might fit the bill. My personal tastes crave books with a lot of depth and dynamics these days, but I remember back when an easy-flowing fantasy book was just what the doctor ordered. So yes, to the right audience. Particularly those who enjoy romance novels but want something a little more robust. This author is a great hybrid of the two genres.

by Niki Hawkes


Your Pick for Nik – August’s Review: The Sharing Knife: Beguilement by Lois McMaster Bujold

9780061796753_p0_v1_s260x420Title: The Sharing Knife: Beguilement

Author: Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: The Sharing Knife #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Troubled young Fawn Bluefield seeks a life beyond her family’s farm. Enroute to the city, she encounters a patrol of Lakewalkers. The necromancers armed with human bone knives fight “malices”, immortal entities that draw out life, enslaving humans and animals. Dag saves Fawn from a malice – at a devastating cost. Their fates are now bound in a remarkable journey.


The Review:

Story: I have read dozens of romance novels with a fantasy twist, but I have never before read a robust, rounded fantasy with a full romance focus. It was the very first true hybrid of the genres in my eyes and I have to say, if all romances were presented in this format I doubt I’d read much else. Usually, the biggest draws for a fantasy novel are world-building and events (fight scenes, magic/spell casting, etc. – basically: external conflicts). Romances, on the other hand, often focus exclusively on character and inner conflicts. To find a romance with such an authentic, rich fantasy world kind of blew my mind. I daresay this series is a sub-genre all its own and the unique mix of the two worlds was my favorite element of this story.

Pacing: As a strong character-driven story, most of the conflict was centered around the two main characters’ relationship and, as a result, was very slow-developing. While fantastic for a love story (because as far as I can tell, no one likes an insta-love) readers expecting a lot of action would probably have gotten bored. Personally, I enjoyed the relationship focused so much that I was totally engaged throughout the entire novel. In fact, some of my favorite parts took place when the pacing was at it slowest. Every scene in Beguilement was absorbing, and I lost myself to the internal conflicts of these characters more than once.

World-Building: I am always impressed when an author can come up with a compelling magic system. The magic in the story wasn’t earth-shattering, but it had some really cool history behind it, and I liked what it added to the story. The magic wasn’t the only thing with great history – the different cultures highlighted in the book were fascinating, and you can tell the author spent a lot of time on their development. Also, the villains in this book stems from and enhanced the history of this land (and, in my opinion, are what sold the book to me as a true fantasy). It really set up a strong foundation for what promises to be an excellent series!

Writing: This author screams of awareness. Although the story came across effortless, while analyzing it I could see several conscious decisions made by the author to shape this book into something amazing. Everything from side characters to settings were carefully orchestrated to build up the conflicts and draw you in further. I wish I could break it down more clearly, because it really was all the little things added up that made this a good novel. I applaud this author for not only understanding enough about story and genres to produce this amazing hybrid, but also for her talent as a writer to make everything in this world come alive!

Overall, I am thrilled this book was chosen for the YPFN book club, and I genuinely look forward to seeing where the story goes next!

Recommended Reading: As this one is heavily romance based, I would probably be more inclined to hand it to someone who likes love stories. It is an excellent crossover book for people who love romance and want to try fantasy, and vice versa.

by Niki Hawkes

Other books you might like:

Discussion time! (May contain spoilers):

Who was your favorite character?

I think Dag (although I really enjoyed Fawn’s aunt). I see him as an honorable character, and loved how he coped with villains, troop mates, and Fawn’s family.

What was your favorite part of the story?

The fact that it was a true mix between fantasy and romance… And done so in a way that brought out the best of both worlds.

We learned part way through the book just how much older Dag was than Fawn… did the significant age difference bother you?

For a while, I felt like it should. I think what saved it for me as that we got a chance to see just how genuinely Dag cared for her and there were no creepy alternative motives surrounding his relationship with this much younger girl. The characters evolved into so much more than age that I ended up coming out with a positive opinion of it. I don’t know that that positive opinion of the gap would transfer over to real life, however.

Did the lack of action after the first quarter of the book bother you?

No, Because I could see that wasn’t the point of the story. If you are going to focus so much on internal conflicts that the external take a backseat, it better be brilliant. And you know what? It was.

The questions are meant to generate conversation, so feel free to answer any or all in the comments area. If you also wrote a review for Beguilement, let me know and I will add a personalized link in this review. 


Your Pick for Nik! – August’s Selection!


Thank you all for your votes!

The Sharing Knife by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Sharing Knife by Lois McMaster Bujold

This month’s winner is… The Sharing Knife by Lois McMaster Bujold!

A thorough review and discussion for this book will take place on Monday, September 2nd, so there’s plenty of time to pick it up if you want to participate. For more information on the Your Pick for Nik! book club, click here

Here’s A look at what the book is about:

Troubled young Fawn Bluefield seeks a life beyond her family’s farm. Enroute to the city, she encounters a patrol of Lakewalkers. The necromancers armed with human bone knives fight “malices”, immortal entities that draw out life, enslaving humans and animals. Dag saves Fawn from a malice – at a devastating cost. Their fates are now bound in a remarkable journey.