The Curse of Chalion won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature in 2002 and "The SF Site" (Reader's Choice, Best Books of 2001). In 2002, it was nominated for a Hugo for Best Novel, and for the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel.
On the eve of the Daughter's Day – the grand celebration that will honor the Lady of Spring, one of the five reigning deities – a man broken in body and spirit makes his way slowly down the road to Valenda. A former courtier and soldier, Cazaril has survived indignity and horrific torture as a slave aboard an enemy galley. Now he seeks nothing more than a menial job in the kitchens of the Dowager Provincara, in the noble household where he served as a page in his youth.
But the gods have greater plans for this humbled man. welcomed warmly, clothed and fed, he is named, to his great surprise, secretary-tutor to the Royesse Iselle – the beautiful, strong-willed sister of the impetuous boy who is destined to be the next ruler of the land. But the assignment must ultimately carry Cazaril to the one place he fears even more than the sea: to the royal court of Cardegoss, rife with intrigues and lethal treacheries.
In Cardegoss, the powerful enemies who once placed Cazaril in chains and bound him to a Roknari oar now occupy the most lofty positions in the realm, beneath only the Roya himself. Yet something far more sinister than their scheming hangs like a sword over the royal family: a curse of the blood that taints not only those who would rule, but those who stand in their circle. The life and future of both Iselle and her entire blighted House of Chalion lie in dire peril. The only recourse left to her loyal, damaged servant is the employment of the darkest and most forbidden of magics – a choice that will indelibly mark Cazaril as a tool of the miraculous ... and trap him, flesh and soul, in a maze of demonic paradox, damnation, and death for as long as he dares walk the fivefold pathway of the gods.
Lupe dy Cazaril (called Cazaril or Caz for short), formerly a military officer in the service of Chalion, returned to the town of Valenda in hopes that the Dowager Provincara would remember him from his childhood days as a page and give him a job. He was emotionally and physically damaged from nineteen months as a galley slave, and mostly thinking of a job as a scullion. On the way to the castle at Valenda, he received an unexpectedly large amount of money in response to the simple task of giving directions; then he found the body of a merchant who'd died of death magic; he made sure the man was buried properly, prayed for him, and collected his robe. Maybe he could get a better job after all, once he cleaned himself up?
Upon arriving at the castle, the widow indeed remembered him and took him in. Acting as Provincara, a role technically held by her son Provincar dy Baocia, she had also been taking care of her daughter Ista (the Dowager Royina of Chalion) and two grandchildren by Ista, Iselle and Teidez, the royesse and royse. The Dowager Provincara gave Cazaril the job of secretary-tutor for Iselle. Spring and summer passed in the pleasant and not-too-demanding job of tutoring her in Darthacan, Roknari, geography, and various other lessons suitable to a royesse's education.
When autumn approached, so did a summons: Iselle and Teidez were to travel to Cardegoss to be presented to Orico, the roya of Chalion and their half-brother. At Cardegoss, Teidez was overwhelmed by the glitter and flattery around him; his own secretary-tutor - Ser dy Sanda - was unable to hold back the tide. Cazaril ensured that both Iselle and Betriz knew which courtiers were playing what games at what skill levels. They learned that the real power in the country was held by Chancellor Martou dy Jironal and his younger brother Dondo. Cazaril did not have fond memories of either of them; his time as a galley slave was Martou's doing, very probably at Dondo's urging. After a time, Orico declared that Dondo was to become Iselle's husband. She was horrified; he'd shown himself to be a corrupt and licentious embezzler as the Holy General of the Daughter's Order. As part of an attempt to force her agreement to the marriage, he threatened to rape her until she became pregnant; she responded by praying for his or her death, she didn't care which. Cazaril did care which; he decided to attempt death magic, so he gave it a try in Fonsa's Tower, an abandoned tower where death magic succeeded years before against the Golden General, currently given over to a flock of crows.
- "The Golden General was a tidal wave of destiny, gathering to crash upon the world. Fonsa's soul could match his soul, but could not balance his vast fate. When the death demon carried their souls from the world, that fate overflowed to settle upon Fonsa's heirs, a miasma of ill luck and subtle bitterness."
- ―Umegat explains the Curse of Chalion to Cazaril[src]
The result was nothing like what Cazaril expected – he remained alive, but Dondo was dead. Saint Umegat, who hosted the miracle of the royal menagerie (which kept Orico alive and cleansed him of the worst effects of a curse that lay upon the House of Chalion), met with him and determined that the reason Cazaril had not died was because the death demon was being prevented from carrying out its duty by the Daughter of Spring.
Iselle's main concern at this point was to get herself married to someone of her own choosing, preferably a royse who could help her in her goal of winning the long-running war against the Roknari Princedoms to the north. She quickly settled on Bergon dy Ibra, newly made the Heir of Ibra. Cazaril favored the goal – he hoped she could marry out of the curse. Orico waffled about the plan, causing delays. However, when Teidez mistakenly decided to save Orico from the evil Roknari magic of the menagerie by killing nearly every animal in it, thus making Orico very ill, he took an injury from a leopard and died of the wound. This left Iselle the Heiress of Chalion - a very desired person for marriage. If she was to succeed in her goal of marrying Bergon and uniting their kingdoms into a power that would be strong enough to end the northern war, she must hurry.
So Cazaril rode north-west, to Ibra. Upon arrival, he learned that Bergon had been his seat companion for a time as a galley slave. Bergon was deeply grateful to Cazaril for saving him from the attentions of the oar-master, and very pleased at the idea of marrying the Heiress of Chalion and breaking the curse thereby. They returned and met Iselle in Taryoon, a day's journey away from Cardegoss. The two of them married with great ceremony and pleasure; the locals were equally overjoyed and optimistic that better days would come.
- "'What was that thing you told me Saint Umegat said, when you asked him what you should do? About daily duties?'
'He said I should do my daily duties as they came to me."
- ―Iselle discusses with Cazaril how to go forward[src]
The next day, Cazaril realized the curse had not lifted; instead it had spread to include Bergon as well. He was distraught; they were unhappy, but concluded they should keep moving forward with their plans. The following morning, Martou dy Jironal arrived with a company of soldiers and the news that Orico has died; the Royse and Royesse fled while Cazaril blocked the company at the Taryoon castle's courtyard gate. When Martou stabbed Cazaril in the belly, the Daughter of Spring released the death demon; it took Martou's soul instead of Cazaril's. At this point, the Daughter was able to reach into the world with sufficient cooperation from Cazaril to remove the curse from Chalion and its royal family. As a bonus, Cazaril survived the wound and was made Chancellor of Chalion by the new Royina Iselle and Royse-consort Bergon.
- Lupe dy Cazaril
- Iselle dy Chalion
- Betriz dy Ferrej
- Bergon dy Ibra
- Martou dy Jironal
- Dondo dy Jironal
- Dowager Provincara dy Baocia
- Ista dy Chalion
- Teidez dy Chalion
- Orico dy Chalion
- Ferda dy Gura
- Foix dy Gura
- The Fox of Ibra
- March dy Palliar
Behind the scenes
- The story has intentional similarities to that of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, especially their elopement in 1469. The Roknari have connections both to the Moors and the Vikings.
- A map of the world is similar to a map of the Iberian Peninsula, but with north-south inverted.
- See goodreads, June 5, 2020 for deeper discussion