A fantasy venture from the author of the Miles Vorkosigan military-family science fiction series (A Civil Campaign, 1999, etc.). Warrior-diplomat-courtier Cazaril, having been sold into slavery following a disastrous military campaign, finally makes his way home to Valenda after many taxing adventures. To his surprise, he’s offered the position of secretary-tutor to “Royesse” (Princess) Iselle and her companion, Lady Betriz. With the monarch, Orico, ailing, running things are the evil dy Jironal brothers, Chancellor Martous and army chief General Dondo (though it may be a while before readers realize there are two of them. One, or both, betrayed Cazaril). Orico’s indisposition stems from the Curse of Chalion, which sooner or later dooms all members of the royal family. Martous, meanwhile, persuades weak-willed Orico that the horrid Dondo must wed Iselle; appalled, Iselle pleads and shrieks to no avail. Cazaril, sworn to protect and serve Iselle, cannot permit this. But his attempt to use death magic—Cazaril’s death in exchange for Dondo’s—ends bizarrely, with Cazaril still alive, thanks to Iselle’s fervent prayers to the Lady, but Dondo’s soul bound to a death-demon and encysted in Cazaril’s entrails as a tumor! Furthermore, he now finds he has otherworldly vision and has become a living saint!
Boilerplate fantasy, with characters too often indistinguishable and, later, the deflating disclosure that everything that happens is some sort of divine plot. Overall, no better than average, but probably adequate for Bujold fans.