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, returns to the town of Valenda in hopes that the Dowager Provincara will remember him from his childhood days as a page and give him a job. He is 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 receives an unexpectedly large amount of money in response to the simple task of giving directions, and he finds the body of a merchant who'd died of death magic; he makes sure the man is buried properly, prays for him, and collects his robe. Maybe he can get a better job after all, once he cleans himself up.
Upon arriving at the castle, the Provincara indeed remembers him and takes him in. As it turns out, she has been taking care of her daugher Ista (the Dowager Royina of Chalion) and two grandchildren by Ista, Iselle and Teidez, the royesse and royse. The Provincara gives Cazaril the job of secretary-tutor for Iselle. Spring and summer pass 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 approaches, so does a summons: Iselle and Teidez are to travel to Cardegoss to be presented to Orico, the roya of Chalion and their half-brother. At Cardegoss, Teidez is overwhelmed by the glitter and flattery around him; his own secretary-tutor - Ser dy Sanda - is unable to hold back the tide. Cazaril ensures that both Iselle and Betriz know which courtiers are playing what games at what skill levels. They learn that the real power in the country is held by Chancellor Martou dy Jironal and his younger brother Dondo. Cazaril does 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 declares that Dondo is to become Iselle's husband. She is horrified; he's 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 threatens to rape her until she becomes pregnant; she responds by praying for his or her death, she doesn't care which. Cazaril does care which; he decides to attempt death magic, so he gives 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 is nothing like what Cazaril expects – he remains alive, but Dondo is dead. Saint Umegat, who hosts the miracle of the royal menagerie (it keeps Orico alive and cleanses him of the worst effects of a curse that lies upon the House of Chalion), meets with him and determines that the reason Cazaril has not died is because the death demon is being prevented from carrying out its duty by the Daughter of Spring.
Iselle's main concern at this point is to get herself married to someone of her own choosing, preferably a royse who can help her in her goal of winning the long-running war against the Roknari Princedoms to the north. She quickly settles on Bergon dy Ibra, newly made the Heir of Ibra. Cazaril favors the goal – he hopes she can marry out of the curse. Orico waffles about the plan, causing delays. However, when Teidez mistakenly decides to save Orico from the evil Roknari magic of the menagerie by killing nearly every animal in it, thus making Orico very ill, he takes an injury from a leopard and dies of the wound. This leaves Iselle the Heiress of Chalion - a very desired person for marriage. If she's to succeed in her goal of marrying Bergon and uniting their kingdoms into a power that will be strong enough to end the northern war, she must hurry.
So Cazaril rides north-west, to Ibra. Upon arrival, he learns 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 return and meet Iselle in Taryoon, a day's journey away from Cardegoss. The two of them marry with great ceremony and pleasure; the locals are equally overjoyed and optimistic that better days will 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 realizes the curse has not lifted; instead it has spread to include Bergon as well. He is distraught; they are unhappy, but conclude they should keep moving forward with their plans. The following morning, Martou dy Jironal arrives with a company of soldiers and the news that Orico has died; the Royse and Royesse flee while Cazaril blocks the company at the Taryoon castle's courtyard gate. When Martou stabs Cazaril in the belly, the Daughter of Spring releases the death demon; it takes Martou's soul instead of Cazaril's. At this point, the Daughter is 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 survives the wound and is 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 scenesEdit
- 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.