Having faith in good books
[Beamer Jon N. graciously took notes for our July meeting while I was away in Quincy, Massachusetts for Readercon 27.]
With Eugene basking in the literary environs of Readercon, we will try to get by with my take on July’s meeting wherein we discussed the fantasy writings of Ms. Lois McMaster Bujold in The Curse of Chalion. And a fantasy it is, taking on the somewhat gritty tale of a princess and her humble advisor facing a curse on her family, the meaning of faith and the power of the gods.
Prior to the meeting, Eugene provided a succinct summary (read by Chris) of his thoughts concerning the book, noting the identifiable parts of traditional fairy tales (e.g. princess to wed ogre), the persistent realism (no privacy in the capital) and the central role of what it means to be a saint, at least in Ms. Bujold’s world.
The last item twigged a bit of discussion concerning the nature of faith. Kathy posited that in a world where the gods take provable actions, the role of faith is diminished, because faith only means something if it cannot be proven. I suggested that the ‘provability’ of the god’s actions was only available to a select few (including our lead character), and that for everyone else they had to rely on faith. Fran observed that to those who truly believe in our world, prayer does have real and tangible effects – prominently noting the effects claimed for the health of individuals who are prayed for and then get better.
The harshest criticism of the book came from Alan, who felt the marriage negotiations with the Ibra (a neighboring kingdom) were implausibly one-sided. He also confided that he found the mystical aspects and incredibly fortunate appearance of a fellow galley slave as a prince fine, drawing more than one askance look. It was conceded that the negotiations were a bit too pat, but since few people read fantasy for the marriage contract negotiations, no one else seemed overly concerned with this bit of good fortune.
I noted that one aspect of the book that I quite liked was the palace intrigues. Corruption, cruel practical jokes, subtle bribery and false accusation were all present with the implication of harsh penalties for the losers and rich rewards for the winners. No one demurred, but there wasn’t much enthusiasm for this point either.
While some thought the plot was a bit too predictable, it was generally thought to be a fun story. Kathy was particularly pleased that good triumphed while the evil antagonist (irredeemably, says Kathy, Alan questions whether it is the man or the curse) is dispatched to hell. Everyone seemed to agree that the writing was strong enough to raise 6s and 7s to 7s and 8s. A couple of Beamers expressed enthusiasm for reading the sequel novel The Paladin of Souls.