Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Published: August 2001
Publisher: Eos/ Harper Collins

Cazaril returns home to Valenda 17 years after leaving home as a page, having been a courtier, a soldier, a commander, and finally a slave before finding his way back. Expecting to find a place as a servant, he instead is instated as the secretary-tutor to Royesse Iselle, sister to the heir to the throne of Chalion.

Soon he is sent with Iselle and her brother to the capital, where the men who sent him into slavery hold power, and a dark curse presents a strange future for Cazaril...

I picked this book up Monday afternoon, and finished it just now at 10 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday. I had a great difficulty working today, because my mind was much more on the book than on my work.

Bujold is, as usual, incredible in her work. And to those who might fear it, this is not a retread of the Miles Vorkosigan books in a fantasy setting. Indeed, the main character is older, and perhaps wiser than Miles, and certainly not as impetuous. Also, there are not parallels in cloning occurs here. Merely an absolutely magnetic story.

Finishing the book has left me in an energetic state of elation, almost willing to read the book again. Some elements of it, especially the interaction with the gods, reminds one rather of Peter K. Hamilton's Night's Dawn series in elements...but the story is truly magical, shot straight from the bow. No meandering, no wallowing that plagues so many current fantasy novels.

Bujold truly proves here that not only can she write excellent science fiction, but that she is also just as capable of accomplishing work in the fantasy realm. I haven't read anything quite this stunning since Caroline Stevermer's When The King Comes Home or Robin Hobb's The Assassin's Apprentice trilogy.

There is little actual fighting in the story, and just as little sorcery. There are no strange alien creatures. Just humans...and gods. Reason and Faith, and all their sundry problems. It's everything that's good about fantasy, with none, so far as I can tell, of the detractors. Both strong male and female characters. Some romance. Some action. Some politics. Lots of wonder. You owe it to yourself to read this. At least so I can actually talk to somebody about it, instead of exploding with delight here at my keyboard...

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