In The Curse of Chalion Lois McMaster Bujold abandons her usual military space-opera for good reason; this is an emotionally powerful, inventively plotted novel which needs to be fantasy to work.
Cazaril, betrayed by his enemies into a crippling two years in the galleys, returns to court a physical and emotional wreck: appointed secretary-tutor to the young princess Iselle, he finds himself in direct opposition to his powerful betrayers. His preparedness to make the ultimate sacrifice and save Iselle from an unwanted marriage to one of them by a death spell that will kill him also has unforeseen results; he learns the hard way that the gods have plans for him, ingenious and mischievous plans.
Bujold does charm very well—we share Cazaril’s sheer joy at mentoring the bright snippy Iselle—and she is also good at physical and emotional pain—Cazaril’s sense of himself as broken and worn-out is entirely convincing. This is also a fantasy which includes some inventive thinking about the nature of gods and the consequences of curses; there is a nasty-minded logic to almost everything that happens here. Bujold’s fans will read it without recommendation; many readers who have resisted the Vorkosigan books will find this an attractive and intelligent fantasy.