I think this was the first Bujold book I ever read. I was working my way through the Hugo awards and had The Paladin of Souls coming up. I knew that it was the second book in Bujold’s Five Gods series, and I didn’t want to miss anything important, so I read this first. Going through the book for a second time, I appreciate it just as much. It’s a fantastic book.
One of the things that struck me the first time through, and was even more apparent the second time, after becoming more familiar with Bujold’s works, is that she excels in creating characters that value wit over strength. Cazaril, the protagonist, spends most of the novel either recuperating from his period of slavery, or stricken with cancer. Physically, he is no match for any of the antagonists, and must use his experience and cunning to navigate his way through the challenges he faces.
Another thing I liked about the characters was that none of them are dumb. The protagonists are smart and work hard to gain more information. The antagonists are the same way. They aren’t just evil, they’re actually intelligent people with different motivations. Teidez may be the most ignorant character in the book, but his ignorance doesn’t come from a lack of intelligence, just a lack of experience (and occasionally the intentional withholding of information).
The story of the book is more complex than I remembered. Because the book focuses on political machinations, it’s pretty dialog heavy. Despite that, it has a really good pace. The book doesn’t really slow down at any point. If anything, the pace of the story accelerates throughout the book. The last half of the book feels like a race, even though a good portion of the story revolves around waiting.
Paladin of Souls is the follow up to this book, and I’ve read that one before too. I didn’t initially like it as much as this book, but I’m looking forward to it after re-reading The Curse of Chalion. This book is so good that I want to get back into the world as soon as I can.