Literature / Chalion

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Three loosely linked novels, and five self-published novellas, by Lois McMaster Bujold set in a reasonably historically accurate counterpart to medieval Europe, with a pantheon of five gods (the Father, Mother, Daughter, Son and Bastard) — fairly activist gods, but ones who are incapable of acting directly on the physical world, requiring them to work through willing humans. In publication order:
  • The Curse of Chalion (the Daughter's book)
  • Paladin of Souls (the Bastard's book)
  • The Hallowed Hunt (the Son's book)
  • Penric's Demon (novella, about one of the Bastard's demons)
  • Penric and the Shaman (novella, sequel to Penric's Demon)
  • Penric's Mission (novella, sequel to Penric and the Shaman)
  • Mira's Last Dance (novella, sequel to Penric's Mission)
  • Penric's Fox (novella, interquel set after Penric and the Shaman)


This series contains examples of:

  • Adipose Rex: Roya Orico is both obese and sickly, frequently with food stains on his clothing. In fact he is diabetic and the disease is only held off by the menagerie. He is a peripheral force for good at best and his moral weakness puts major characters in peril.
  • All Are Equal in Death: Every soul is picked up by one of the gods at their death, regardless of status or faith, and which god is shown in a miracle at their funeral. Then explored in the third book, where certain souls are shown to be impossible for the gods to pick up, and the trouble is about how to make them pickable again.
  • Altar Diplomacy: In The Curse of Chalion, Royesse (Princess) Iselle arranges her own marriage—for rather urgent political reasons—to the crown prince of a neighboring kingdom whom she's never seen, pausing briefly to collect the rumor that he is "well-favored" (which she cynically says people will say about any prince who isn't a perfect fright), before returning to more important practical considerations. When she finally meets him, they've practically already bonded over their shared love and admiration for the main character, Iselle's heroic secretary, and by the morning after the wedding, he observes that they look like a couple madly in love.
  • Always Second Best: Illvin to Arhys. Illvin doesn't mind though, since his half-brother has a bad case of "Well Done, Son!" Guy towards his dead father.
  • Amazon Chaser: Ingrey waxes almost poetic about Ijada's tall, statuesque form, and her ability to bash would-be rapists heads in.
  • And I Must Scream: The fate of the heirs of Horseriver.
  • And Then What?: Ijada's extremely practical response when Ingrey offers to let her escape. Ingrey thinks she can escape into the woods and to her kin; Ijada thinks it likely she'll just end up eaten by a bear.
  • Another Man's Terror: In Curse of Chalion, Cazaril prays for a death magic miracle. If it succeeds, it will kill both himself and his target. After he completes the ritual, he hallucinates that he is his victim, who chokes to death on his own tongue.
  • Attempted Rape: Boleso tries it on Ijada just before the beginning of the novel, which not-coincidentally opens with Ingrey going to collect Boleso's body.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: Ingrey becoming the hallow king for one night.
  • Badass Boast: "Welcome to [my gates]. I am the Mouth of Hell." Bonus points for being literally true.
  • Badass Bookworm: Technically Cazaril is Royesse Iselle's tutor and he is very erudite. He's also a dirty fighter and will stop at nothing to help "his ladies", supernatural curses, supernatural tumors and evil chancellors be damned.
  • Balancing Death's Books: Death magic. Basically it's just a prayer to Bastard to kill someone. If Bastard decides that the intended victim, indeed, deserves death, he'll send his demon to take the victim's life—and the demon will also take the life of the caster.
  • Barred from the Afterlife: Sometimes someone who doesn't get the proper funeral rite and died a traumatic death can't be taken up by the gods and ends up a lost soul, although they can be redeemed by a living saint. Shamans attach an animal spirit to their soul and need another shaman to separate the two when they die. This damnation (becoming a ghost) also occurs to those for whom the afterlife would not be welcome — they choose forgetfulness and decay instead of an eternity of perfect memory.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Much of the reason Penric is able to get so much assistance from Desdemona is that he treats "her" like a person, with thoughts and feelings of her own, not merely a dangerous, if useful, tool.
    Desdemona: "You looked a god in the eyes. And spoke for me. There is nothing in my power that I will ever refuse you, after that.
    • He is the first of Desdemona's many riders to even give her a name.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: A recurring theme in the context of praying to the gods for an outcome.
  • Bears are Bad News:
    • In Paladin of Souls, a bear shows up, Foix dy Gura kills it, and the demon that was possessing the bear jumps into Foix.
    • In The Hallowed Hunt, Fafa the ice bear isn't killed, but:
    Ijada: I was imagining the most bizarre things befalling you.
    Ingrey: Did they include a six-hundred-pound ice bear and a pirate poet?
    Ijada: No...
    Ingrey: Then they weren't the most bizarre after all.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: In the backstory, Hallana and Oswin spent every moment together arguing theology, right up until they married each other—and apparently carried on thereafter.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Hallowed Hunt is a rare example of this in Bujold's works, with Ingrey freeing the spirits of the Weald warriors trapped for four hundred years, but unable to free Wencel's or the other innocent souls from Horseriver before he achieves dissolution, and he's unable to help his own on father's ghost pass onto the gods, though he does free his spirit animal.
  • Black Magic: More death magic. With the twist that it's actually a miracle when properly done. Only trying death magic is illegal for good reasons.
  • Blessed with Suck: If the gods bequeath a supernatural gift on you, even if it looks good on paper, it's going to make your life very uncomfortable/painful.
    "If you are become their tool, it is for a greater reason, an urgent reason. But you are the tool. You are not the work. Expect to be valued accordingly."
  • Blood Magic: Ingrey and Horseriver pay for their Weirding Voice with this. Ingrey has a Wound That Will Not Heal, and Horseriver coughs up blood afterwards.
  • Body Horror: A demon can manifest in you as a magical tumor... which eventually grows teeth and claws and tears its way out of you. Was terrifying for Cazaril until it turned out he had a +5 Holy Tumor Of Evil Chancellor Slaying.
    • The really bad part was that Cazaril was less disturbed by the demon than by the soul of Dondo dy Jironal, said Evil Chancellor's rather more evil kid brother, who is stuck in the same tumor, happens to be vocally upset over the whole matter, and may be "leaking".
    • The revealed form of Horseriver, which is only humanlike in outline, has the marks of every death he has died, and the screaming faces of all the imprisoned spirits cycling around his skull.
  • The Book Cipher: Used in The Curse of Chalion when Cazaril and Iselle need to communicate privately over long distances.
  • Bury Your Gays: In The Curse of Chalion, Ias and dy Lutez both died in the backstory, as did Umegat's partner. Umegat himself survives, though.
  • Cassandra Truth: Ista was labeled insane for years — turns out she was just truthfully recounting the visions the gods were sending to her.
  • Cessation of Existence: A possible fate if one's soul is sundered from the gods (either by choice or by other supernatural cause) and cannot be claimed by one in a reasonable time. This also happens immediately to any soul placed in the Bastard's Hell, an extremely rare event.
  • A Child Shall Lead Them: 16 year old Iselle's bid to establish effective power gains extra traction from her youth, her beauty, the timely commencement of Spring, and the fact that all three are the domain of the Daughter. Many of her subjects took it as a sign of divine favor from the Lady; incidentally, they were correct.
  • Chekhov's Gun: In addition to the merchant's diary, there are a quite a few.
    • Chekhov's Gift: Dondo probably did not intend to save the life of Iselle's betrothed when he gave her an extravagant strand of pearls.
    • Cazaril carries both Chekhov's Tumor and Chekhov's Scars.
    • Chekhov's Army: The Order of the Daughter. Who knew a bunch of hardened soldiers sworn to the service of the Goddess of Virginity could help the maiden princess defend herself from unwanted suitors?
    • Chekhov's Skill: Iselle and Betriz are scolded by their guardians for their unladylike habit of riding horses like they're on fire; but when everyone believes them irretrievably besieged by Martou dy Jironal's forces, they just tear off into the night with one escort, into friendly hands and a perfect strategic stronghold before anyone even realizes they're gone.
  • Chick Magnet: Arhys is quite blessed by the Father. Indeed, it proves an important plot point.
  • Compelling Voice: This is one benefit of harboring a spirit animal, as Ingrey discovers when he stops a raging ice bear with nothing but a firm verbal command. Horseriver—being a bit more powerful and a lot more experienced—can employ even more complicated tricks, overlapping with Jedi Mind Tricks and Mind Control.
  • Continuity Drift: By way of Uniqueness Decay, as magic and miracles steadily become more common over the series:
    • In Curse there are only a small handful of saints who experience limited but profound interventions from their gods, and there are only a few overtly magical events in the book.
    • In Paladin, sorcerers are a known quantity and either rogues or Temple-trained agents of the Bastard; and while saints are still fairly rare they are treated more like appointed positions in the Temple endorsed by divine acclamation, kind of like lesser popes.
    • Hunt goes right out with Temple sorcerers being uncommon but well-known, and saints of the Five being common enough the Temple makes distinctions between major saints and petty saints - they're talked about as a fact of the church hierarchy, with rather less of the awe-inspiring tone about them seen in Curse.
      • The latter difference may partly be explained by Bujold herself in the Author's Note of "Penric's Demon"; Hunt takes place roughly two and a half centuries before Curse. (It doesn't quite explain the drift between Curse and Paladin, however, as the gap between the two books is explicitly stated to be three years—but the story of Curse doesn't run nearly so deeply into church organization as Paladin does.)
  • Corrupt Church: Averted due to having rather active gods. Very few "divines" are actively corrupt, and they are generally weeded out promptly.
  • Cryptic Conversation: Between Cazaril and Ista. They understand each other perfectly well. It's Ista's ladies in waiting who think they're babbling nonsense.
    • In general, between any two people touched by the gods. Cazaril remarks on this a few times: that the only person who can really understand a living saint "talking shop" is another such.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: The Quintarian faith, while its theology is different and well-developed, fills the cultural role of the medieval Catholic Church. The Quadrene religion is closely related to Quintarianism but disagrees on a few very significant points, making it somewhat parallel the relationship between Christianity, Judaism and Islam. (Politically, it specifically parallels the medieval conflicts between Christianity and Islam in Spain.)
  • Curse: Obviously a central theme in the first two books. Also important in the third, but there it is generally referred to as a "geas," and is another way a saying "magically compelled."
  • Cursed with Awesome: Ingrey's "defilement" grants some wicked cool abilities like Compelling Voice, superhuman strength and a general air of being angsty and tortured—the downside is, as the last known living shaman, he will be sundered from the gods when he dies.
  • Dangerous Forbidden Technique:
    • Death magic is not only forbidden by law; if successful it results in the death of both the target and the perpetrator.
      • Technically, it's only attempting death magic which is a crime - it's essentially attempted murder. If you succeed, the theology of Chalion rules that you have been granted a literal miracle of justice by The Bastard, one of the Gods. But you're still dead, and your corpse still needs to be burnt before sunset in case something else takes possession of it. Unless you're Cazaril, that is, who is deeply uncomfortable with the implications of his survival.
    • Sorcery is dangerous mostly due to the very thin line between possessing a demon and demonic possession.
    • Possessing a spirit-animal gives on great physical strength and speed. Taking one of the "great beasts" gives one many supernatural powers, comparable to sorcery, but can drive the bearer mad, and will leave them sundered from the gods at their death—unless another shaman is available to exorcize their soul.
  • Dark Is Not Evil/Light Is Not Good: Played with. The Bastard's associated color is white... and he's the lord of demons and god of disasters, who people tend to try to appease rather than worship. Except... his role is to rein in and control demons so they don't hurt humans, and he's also the god of unexpected blessings. Further, most of his "disasters" are either plans to eventually better humanity's lot, or desperate measures to control the damage caused by the other gods' meddling.
    • Paladin of Souls suggests that the Bastard maintains the balance between order and chaos, keeping the world between frozen stasis and destruction.
    • Likewise, the Father's colors are black and grey, but he's the god of fatherhood, leadership, and justice.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: When Penric wakes up with some morning desire, he's about to "take matters in hand" when his female demon pipes up, interested to see what the experience is like from the other side. He decides he'd rather be frustrated for now.
  • Dead All Along: Arhys
  • Deadly Decadent Court:
    • Roya Orico's court in Cardegoss, mostly due to his being a weak and accursed leader, and Martou dy Jironal an Evil Chancellor.
    • To a lesser extent the Hallowed King's court in The Hallowed Hunt, due to him being on a his deathbed, with much intrigue about the votes for his successor, mostly due to the machinations of Horseriver, who wants to delay the vote as long as he can to temporarily take back the Hallow King's power.
  • The Determinator:
    • Cazaril's not gonna let a little thing like having a deadly tumor infested by a demon and the sundered soul of a homicidal rapist in his stomach stop him!
    • Even though Ista rather dislikes Cattilara, she has to marvel at the sheer determination it had to take for an untrained young woman to assert her will over a demon of chaos, especially considering that she's totally ignorant and slightly stupid.
  • Deus ex Machina: Used judiciously. Most of the gods' works require human hands, but every once in a while they get to be the Big Damn Heroes.
    • Cazaril is host to two miracles. The Bastard granted his prayer for a Death Miracle, and the Lady of Spring restrained the demon which should have flown away with his soul and Dondo's.
    • Subverted at the end of The Curse of Chalion. Witnesses were left thinking that The Lady of Spring struck dy Jironal with a lightning bolt from a clear blue sky, for the crime of offering violence on Her day, when what they were really witnessing was the undoing of her earlier miracle.
    • Arhys' sundered soul is saved when The Father of Winter makes Ista his living door into heaven.
    • A subtle one, but technically the Son of Autumn saved Ijada from Boleso's assault. As she fought Boleso off, she prayed to her father's patron god—the god of the hunt, and war. She tried to run, but could not. When she turned, she found the hilt of Boleso's war hammer under her hand...
  • Did Do The Research: Horses get tired and riders get muddy. You can't swim in plate armor. Sheltered maidens can't wield cavalry weapons (without help). Bujold cuts no corners on historical accuracy, and rather uses it to add tension and drama.
  • Disappeared Dad: Arvol dy Lutez is effectively this to his son Arhys.
  • Disease By Any Other Name:
    • Paladin of Souls: Ista sees the youngest child of her Arch-Nemesis and describes her as having the characteristics of "those children born to a woman late in life"—very clearly talking about Down Syndrome.
    • Curse of Chalion: A physician enthusiastically tells a horrified Cazaril that his tumor could have grown teeth or hair, ie a teratoma. He attributes it to a demon attempting to grow a body and escape into the material world.
    • The Hallowed Hunt: After a wolf-spirit sends the hero into a kind of metaphysical seizure, Hallana — a sorceress/physician acolyte — comments, "I have seen the falling sickness, and that was not it."
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: It's Cattilara's main character trait.
  • The Dreaded: Demons are terrified of the gods. Even Desdemona, who more or less received an official blessing from the Bastard to stay with Penric, does the spiritual equivalent of curling into the fetal position when a god's presence manifests.
  • Drop the Hammer: Though it's unclear exactly how, the Son of Autumn and a leopard-spirit enabled maidenly Ijada to bash a would-be rapist's brains in with his own big-ass war hammer.
  • Due to the Dead: The climax of The Hallowed Hunt includes Ingrey, in his temporary role as The Hallow King, aiding the ghosts of over four thousand Weald spirit warriors in removing their spirit animals and letting them pass on into the gods' hands. A little later he does the same for his late father, though his spirit had faded too much for the gods to take him up.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: A lot of characters. Cazaril is especially notable because the solution for the curse, requiring a man "willing to lay down his life three times for the House of Chalion," means he literally had to practice dying through multiple Near Death Experiences so his soul would be open enough for the gods to recover the power of the curse from the world.
  • Equivalent Exchange: Demons are creatures of chaos and disorder. Their powers can be used for constructive purposes, but this creates a "debt" that has to be paid by creating an equal amount of chaos. Fortunately, killing fleas, rats and other vermin counts; but unscrupulous sorcerers can murder humans and destroy villages if they want to discharge chaos more efficiently.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Inverted in the story of the Bastard's origin. His father was a powerful, murderous demon that consumed the soul of a completely unselfish human, and promptly had a conscience forced upon him. Cue My God, What Have I Done? followed by Heel–Face Turn.
  • Evil Chancellor: Martou dy Jironal, as a result of the curse. Roya Orico, knowing he was cursed to be a terrible ruler, handed the reins over to dy Jironal in hopes of circumventing his fate... but the curse is smarter than that, and perverted dy Jironal's ambition into corruption, making Orico's decision a case of terrible misrule in itself.
  • Evil Matriarch: Joen is well into Type 2, with Mind Control possibly even pushing her to Hive Queen status.
  • Eye Scream: At the beginning of Penric's Mission a character is blinded by having boiling vinegar poured into his eyes. Fortunately only his eyelids and cornea are burned, and Penric is able to repair the damage with a great deal of "Uphill" magic.
  • False Friend:
    • Dondo dy Jironal in The Curse of Chalion who wastes no time currying favor with Royse Teidez in order to corrupt him and make him dependent on his brother Martou.
    • Clee in Penric's Demon, who helps his elder brother kidnap Penric in order to murder him and steal Desdemona
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The setting evokes Europe in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance:
    • To the Iberian peninsula in the late Reconquista, with the map flipped around so that the Moors (that is, the Roknari) are in the north rather than the south.
    • The Weald is German/Germanic central Europe.
    • Even though it hasn't been visited on-screen, Darthaca corresponds to France.
    • The mountainous and mercenary-exporting Cantons are the Switzerland of the setting.
    • Present day Cedonia is the Byzantine Empire, while the Old Cedonian Empire represents the Roman Empire.
    • Actually, the planet/hemisphere the series is set on seems to be flipped as far as north/south goes, the far-southern barbarian prince Jokol comes from a culture with a lot of similarities with viking culture (far-north on Earth), and summer is stated to come earlier in the northern region of Porifors.
  • Flip Personality: Demons in Paladin of Souls. Those with second sight can see who is in control of a body.
  • Foreshadowing: Early in The Curse of Chalion, Cazaril reflects that Royse Teidez' tutor, by clamping down on the young royse's misdemeanors, is making himself unpopular but doing Teidez more good than another man might who chose to curry the royse's favor by indulging his baser urges. Later, Teidez falls into the hands of a patron who does take that strategy, with unfortunate results all round.
  • Foil: Paladin of Souls juxtaposes the hero, Ista, with the Big Bad, Joen—two highborn women in their forties, frustrated by the lot society has based on their gender and age. Ultimately, Ista finds a new relationship with her god, declares her independence from her keepers, and finds a noble purpose in life. Joen dives into sorcery and sin, enslaving her family to her will in a twisted attempt to fulfill not her own stolen destiny, but her father's.
  • For Want of a Nail: In the original poem's sense. After Cazaril realizes the extent of the gods' manipulations, he wonders how many men they sent on the road to help Teidez as he was sent to help Iselle, and who never made it. In Paladin, the Bastard confirms to Ista that the Son of Autumn sent many, but all failed.
    • A prayer to the Bastard calls this trope explicitly, with indication that it's divinely inspired at the time:
    "And the Bastard grant us...in our direst need, the smallest gifts: the nail of the horseshoe, the pin of the axle, the feather at the pivot point, the pebble at the mountain's peak, the kiss in despair, the one right word. In darkness, understanding."
  • The Four Gods: Not specifically the Chinese ones—they are a Father, Mother, Son, and Daughter—but similar in some respects, for instance in ruling the four seasons. Quintarians also believe in a fifth god, the Bastard, for "all things out of season."
  • Gargle Blaster: (The Hallowed Hunt) Jokol's men serve Ingrey a drink that is drunk in one gulp from a tiny glass and tastes like "pine needles."
  • Genius Bruiser: Foix dy Gura is far less simple than he looks.
  • Give Me a Sign: One of them generally will, though you may regret asking.
  • A Glass in the Hand: Cazaril does the snapped-pencil version (with a quill pen, since pencils have yet to be invented in Chalion) when Betriz mentions that Dondo dy Jironal has been paying her unwelcome attentions.
  • God's Hands Are Tied: The reason why Deus ex Machina aren't flying around everywhere. Explained in-story that a person who manages to open themselves to the Five Gods is an empty vessel, having surrendered their will completely. Harder than it seems, and not nearly a comfortable thing — see the notes for Blessed with Suck above.
  • Grande Dame:
    • The Dowager Provincara dy Baocia is a Meddling Matriarch—her son moved his capitol and court from Valenda to Taryoon to get away from her, and much of her daughter Ista's flight at the beginning of Paladin of Souls is getting away from her even after she's died. Less than a month after her death, the following exchange occurs:
    "My lord dy Baocia — as the head of the family now, it's your place to insist she be more sensible!"
    "Actually," Ista noted, "He's been head of the family for a decade and a half."
    Dy Baocia snorted, and muttered under his breath, "Aye — anyplace in Baocia but Valenda..."
    • The Princess-Archdivine of Martinsbridge in the Penric novellas, who combines secular and spiritual authority in her district.
  • Grand Theft Me: There has been only one Earl Horseriver, and his house's descent from the old Hallow Kings is not a coincidence.
  • A Hell of a Time: It's implied that if you're claimed by the Bastard for a lifetime of service to his church, you get this. If you're, say, a gluttonous, cowardly, would-be rapist on the other hand...
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: Caz breaks down sobbing after spending almost two years as a galley slave, walking for a month across the mountains as an impoverished beggar then being welcomed into the Provincara's household and given a nightshirt, tooth brush and a soft, warm bed to sleep in.
    • And that's after spending months recovering from what sounds a lot like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (which was caused by spending 19 months in slavery rowing on a galley).
    • In the backstory, Cazaril went through this toward the end of the long, desperate siege of Gotorget.
      ... That night on the tower, tears of fatigue and despair — and yes, rage — running down his face, he'd torn [his Brother's medal] off and flung it over the battlement, denying the god who'd denied him. The spinning slip of gold had disappeared into the darkness without a sound. And he'd flung himself prone on the stones, ... and sworn that any other god could pick him up who willed, or none, so long as the men who had trusted him were let out of this trap. As for himself, he was done. Done.
      Nothing, of course, happened.
    Or so he thought at the time.
  • Heroic Fatigue: Poor Cazaril!
  • I Kiss Your Foot: Formal greetings in Chalion involve kissing the back of a person's hands, greeting one's superior (or someone you're grateful to see) involves kissing the feet too.
  • I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder: In Mira's Last Dance Adelis cuts off a suggestion that he wear his sister's clothes again as a disguise with, "I'm a soldier, not an actor."
  • In Love with Your Carnage: Ingrey's lieutenant, Gesca, suggests this is the reason Ingrey finds Ijada attractive.
    • Arhys's "stunning first impression" on Ista involves him quite violently rescuing her from a band of captors, such that she's putting together a pleasant little fantasy of a Rescue Romance even while noting how he and his sword are covered in gore...
  • Insistent Terminology: As the Bastard's dedicats will tell you, it's a Death Miracle, not magic. The misnomer persists, however.
  • Inspired by...: Word of God says that Chalion was inspired by the history of Spain during the Reconquista period, specifically Isabella of Castile (Iselle dy Chalion) and Ferdinand of Aragon (Bergon dy Ibra). If you're familiar with the history of the period, this inspiration shows: most of the major characters and many of the events have real-life counterparts — including some events you'd think couldn't possibly have parallels.
  • In the Blood: Downplayed. Earl Horseriver comments offhandedly that Ingrey's Wolfcliff ancestors also shared his penchant for being stoic and rather curt—or as Horseriver put it, his "singular surliness." And Horseriver would know. He almost certainly knew Ingrey's ancestors personally.
  • Irony: Dondo dy Jironal—a man who promised rape and humiliation to his unwilling betrothed, Iselle—is placed in charge of the Daughter's order, whose patron goddess is the divine incarnation of virgin women.
  • I See Dead People: When they die, most people are taken up by one of the gods, but some hang around for one reason or another, gradually fading away. One of the side effects of sainthood, and possessing a demon, is the ability to see them.
  • King Incognito: Ista's vaca-*ahem* pilgrimage in Paladin of Souls was taken under the alias of a minor noblewoman to avoid the entourage deemed fitting for a dowager royina, and the sister of a ruling provincar.
  • King on His Deathbed:
    • Poor Orico, for roughly the latter third of Curse. It's suggested he dies well before it's officially announced, but that his wife and caretakers keep up the ruse that he's alive. All so Iselle is not formally starting a civil war against the man who is to be her regent, Chancellor dy Jironal, and to make it look like dy Jironal is instead overreaching.
    • Also the Hallow King, whose imminent death drives the plot of The Hallowed Hunt, as Earl Horseriver takes advantage of the brief interregnum before Prince Biast takes the crown, to take back the full power of the Weald and finally achieve a permanent death and dissolution.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Ingrey is determinedly cynical, prompting some teasing from Ijada.
    "Now what makes you grow grim?"
    "Nothing"
    "To be sure."
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The Bastard's speciality. Also, the slavers on Cazaril's ship suffered particularly Gorn-tastic deaths.
  • The Last Dance:
    • Cazaril intends to use what time he has left to secure the safety of "his ladies" and the political stability of the kingdom.
    • Arhys waltzes into the enemy camp—well outnumbered and expecting to die—gambling that his temporary immunity to injury will break their ranks and allow him to kill the enemy sorcerers.
  • Last-Name Basis: Many characters in Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls are referred to by last name; some go by nicknames based on them (Caz from dy Cazaril, Palli from dy Palliar). "dy Name" seems to mean "of Place," whether a town or fort or some other location, as the possibility of ennobling someone comes up in Paladin and the suggested "noble name" comes from their home town.
    • Caz especially prefers to go by his family name as his older brother mercilessly mocked his given name when they were children, so he much prefers not using it.
  • The Last Thing You Ever See: Very much averted, as Caz informs someone stupid enough to threaten him that if he wanted them dead, they'd never see it coming.
  • Liminal Time: The plot in The Hallowed Hunt hinges on this. In the period between the death of Hallowed King and the election of his successor, the Hallowed King's ancient powers fall back to their original wielder, the Earl of Horseriver, who wishes to use this moment to spite the gods and finally achieve dissolution after involuntarily Body Snatching his descendants for four hundred years.
  • The Lost Woods: The Wounded Wood, in the Weald. Everyone who sleeps in their bounds has mad, vivid nightmares that send them racing away in terror. It's the cursed site of a horrible massacre of thousands of spirit warriors who still haunt the place, centuries later.
  • Luke Nounverber: Jokol Skullsplitter. Weald clan names are generally of the form Animallandscape; examples include Wolfcliff, Horseriver, Badgerbank, and Lynxlake.
  • Made a Slave: Cazaril comes home fresh from the galley rowbanks at the beginning of The Curse of Chalion. And it had been so bad that after being freed, at first he starts weeping at the slightest cause. Yet his protecting of a fellow rower plays an important part in ending the curse.
  • Male Gaze: Used in The Hallowed Hunt when Ingrey starts falling for Ijada. For the female readers, it doubles as an excuse to describe her pretty medieval dresses.
  • Meaningful Name: Jokol Skullsplitter, but it doesn't mean what you'd think.
  • Mission from God: The crux of every book.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Apparently a minor hazard of becoming a priest of the Bastard. Which becomes a major hazard when dealing with the Roknari, as both homosexuality and worship of the Bastard are forbidden among them and the punishments for both start with cutting off your thumbs.
  • Mistaken for Pedophile: Cazaril's whip scars from his time as a galley slave cause this to happen to him, as whipping is the standard punishment for pedophiles in Chalion.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Bujold refrains from any enthusiastic descriptions of her heroes, but:
    • Wherever they go, men sworn to the Daughter's Order are generally looked well upon (and giggled over a lot), what with being gallant defenders of womankind, among other things.
    • In The Curse of Chalion, after the Ibran contingent's heroic cross-country ride to bring the groom to Iselle, "they were collecting Chalionese ladies rather as spilled honey collected ants..."
    • Arhys is able to make a world-weary middle-aged woman in the middle of traumatic circumstances suddenly rediscover her sexuality through his mere proximity.
    A stunning first impression was not the same as love at first sight, but it was certainly an invitation to consider the matter.
  • Multiple-Choice Past: There's a few different versions of the Bastard's origin floating around, it's not clear whether the Mother had sex with a demon or if he is more of a magical construct they created together.
  • Mundane Utility: Penric uses his demon's magic to make printer's plates.
  • Mute, but Not Silent: Umegat's assistant Daris is an elderly little man who is missing his thumbs and tongue. The missing tongue means that he can't speak, but he does make various mouthed hums, welcoming noises, and other sounds.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Cazaril, after his plan to get Iselle to marry out of the Curse results in Bergon marrying into it.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Joen of Jokona who has a powerful demon under her thumb. And Dowager Royina Ista who eats that demon, sending it back to the Bastard's Hell.
  • Nobody Over 50 Is Gay: Averted.
    • Umegat: When I was a young lord in the Archipelago, I fell in love.
      Cazaril: Young lords and young louts do that everywhere.
      Umegat: My lover was about thirty then. A man of keen mind and kind heart.
      Cazaril: Oh. Not in the Archipelago, you don't.
    • As well, Ias and dy Lutez were noted for being into their fifties when Ias and Ista married, and Ista learned of their ongoing secret relationship.
  • No Man of Woman Born: The specific conditions of raising the curse in The Curse of Chalion.
  • "Not Wearing Pants" Dream: Learned Oswin contrasts his wife having god-sent dreams with him just having these.
  • Off on a Technicality: Cazaril isn't arrested for death magic because it turns out only unsuccessful attempts are illegal.note  Plus the law is mainly there to curb people trying to fake it with poisons and other mundane methods.
  • Oh, Crap!: Cazaril's initial reaction to the job offer of Secretary-Tutor to Royesse Iselle.
    "Couldn't you give me a fortress under siege instead?"
    • The Provincara's response to that is to dryly note that a fortress under siege is almost exactly what her granddaughter is going to be.
    • Cazaril has this response, to greater or lesser degrees, to a lot of requests that are laid on him; Ista remarks that his admitted fear of them makes him wiser than those who either aren't smart enough to know just how far out of their depth they are, or are too proud to admit it.
  • Our Demons Are Different: Demons answer to the Bastard, who is like the House of Hufflepuff when it comes to taking up souls. He takes anyone not covered by the other four gods and is the patron of homosexuals, bastards, and all things out of season. In Chalion, it is acknowledged that demons are Always Chaotic Evil, but this mostly means that possession of (or by) a demon puts you under the temple's purview. The Roknari, on the other hand, consider the Bastard to be the the equivalent of Satan, and the Quintarian religion heresy. They cut off the thumbs, tongue and genitalia of people thought to worship him.
    • The demons are more Always Chaotic Chaotic, actually. They are not inherently malicious, but both their presence in the world and any expression of their powers tends to wreak great havoc. Despite this, the demons often come off as more innocently amoral than evil, and those possessed by demons are allowed to keep them if they display the right temperament to keep them under control. Divines of the Bastard tend to regard His existence (and implicitly, the presence of demons in the world) as necessary to keep the world in a balance 'between the hot death that is chaos and the cold death that is stasis.' They also tend to refer to demons by the more neutral term "elemental," rather than the emotionally charged "demon."
  • Our Souls Are Different: Everything about magic is based on something to do with the soul. Living beings are one of the only points where the spirit and material realms cross over at all, and so are the only vessel through which spiritual forces (AKA, magic) can manifest in the material world. Thus divine miracles must come through a willing soul; sorcery is the product of demon possession; and the Wealding shamans bonded animal souls to human to grant strange powers from the mix.
    • As for the general trope details: If you lose yours, you die. They can be damaged and destroyed, but they can also be borrowed from without too much harm. Mind, body, and soul are all distinct but interconnected, such that memory and even wounds can go with them. Ghosts are damaged souls or those of people who willingly turned from the gods - not just disbelievers, but from active hatred. More than one soul can inhabit a body, but bad things tend to happen.
  • Out-Gambitted: Horseriver. He almost succeeded in his revenge on the Gods, except that his chosen shaman was his heir as Hallowed King, and severing Ingrey's link to Ijada (which he initially put in place) was what drew her and the five divine representatives to Bloodfield/Holytree.
  • Pet the Dog: dy Jironal gets a very brief one when Cazaril looks for him in his chancellory office, patting one of his couriers on the shoulder and encouraging him to do his best when the man reports winter snows making travel difficult.
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage: Iselle and Bergon. As a bonus, it's actually self-arranged, sight unseen, completely for very important political reasons.
  • The Plan: The gods can mostly only interfere in the world by nudging people, so they do a lot of these. Horseriver does this as well in his attempts to spite them.
  • Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: Jokol and his men are frequently subject to speculation that they are pirates. If they in fact are, they are the kind that go around singing, drinking and... that's about it.
    • They are fantasy Norsemen in a time where the Norse had a reputation as pirates, reavers... and merchants. Jokol is present in the Weald as a prince and representative of his people (and also to recruit a divine to perform his wedding back home), so while he and his crew may be talked about as pirates, it would be counterproductive to actually engage in any piracy.
  • Power Perversion Potential: Two characters attempt to use spirit warriors' compulsion abilities for their own gratification. It fails both times.
    • In The Hallowed Hunt, Prince Boleso erroneously thinks that his spirit animals will give him power over the Weald and its kin—specifically he thinks Ijada can be his mind-controlled paramour. He gets his head bashed in, instead.
    • In Penric and the Shaman, Desdemona tells Penric that a Weald shaman once attempted to seduce Penric's predecessor using his weirding voice. His voice failed to work on the sorceress. Though, incidentally, his seduction succeeded.
  • Prince Charming: The role Cazaril desired for Royse Bergon to play to save Iselle from the eponymous curse. It didn't quite work out as intended.
    • It didn't work out the way Cazaril intended. It worked out exactly the way the Five Gods intended.
  • Quickly Demoted Leader: Paladin of Souls is actually Ista's second Call to Adventure. The first time—before the events of the series—she sort of accidentally murdered a guy and went crazy, leaving it to her daughter to sort things out.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: The driving force behind Earl Horseriver's big plan in The Hallowed Hunt. He's unspeakably pissed off at the gods turning their backs to the Wealdings long ago.
  • Rasputinian Death: Arhys. Strictly speaking he was dead to begin with, but the Jokonans made very sure he would not get up again once he stopped moving.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Earl Wencel kin Horseriver has been unwillingly stealing his heirs' bodies for four hundred years.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: As nearly every major character is a noble or high-ranking priest, most of the good guys of each book count as this in some capacity, often to each other. Cazaril was set to be one for Iselle as her tutor and secretary, and became one of the highest ones in Chalion as her chancellor, responding to Ista's pilgrimage plans with a full purse, the dy Gura brothers, and a note wishing her well. Most of the villains are defined by something having made them quite unreasonable, if only on a particular matter - Earl Horseriver was as decent a lord you could ask for, when you weren't in the way of his plans.
  • Rebellious Princess: Ista switches this up a bit by abandoning upper-class female expectations nearly a generation after her royal husband dies (and a couple of years after her daughter takes the throne). Rusticate in a peaceful manor? No, too many bad memories. Go to the capital and either play politics or bond with the grandkids? Even worse memories, pass. Declare a vocation for the least reputable deity in the pantheon and ride into a war zone to hunt demons? Coolness!
  • Religion Is Magic: Especially if one of the gods takes an interest in you. Also, death magic actually consists of praying to the Bastard to help you commit a murder-suicide.
  • Religion Is Right: For the most part, though it isn't done in an anvilicious way: the church isn't completely immune to corruption, and The Hallowed Hunt presents a character with very legitimate reasons to hate the gods. As a rule, faiths in the world are right but incomplete thanks to the limitations of both gods and humans (to act and to understand, respectively):
    • The Quadrenes exclude the Bastard, but the gods do acknowledge Him as one of them in visions. Otherwise the Quadrenes are mostly right.
    • It was a Quintarian kingdom that conquered the Wealding and converted them by the sword, failing to understand that the Weald's shamans practiced different ways to seek the same gods, and the gods could and would respond.
    • And the Old Wealdings clearly didn't understand as much about the nature of souls and communication with the gods as the other faiths do, resorting to sacrifice - even human sacrifice - in a way that the other faiths have clearly found unnecessary if not outright horrifying. Their methods do work, they're just kind of scary.
  • Rescue Romance: Ista self-consciously muses over this after Arhys saves her from raiders; the daydream is squashed when her identity is revealed to him and set on fire when she meets his wife.
  • Revival Loophole: This is Ias and dy Lutez's plan for breaking the curse. It doesn't go well.
  • Romancing the Widow:
    • Lord Illvin to Ista in Paladin of Souls.
    • Penric and Nikys are headed toward a relationship at the end of Penric's Mission.
  • Royally Screwed Up: The magical version — see title for The Curse of Chalion.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something:
    • Iselle, with a vengeance. The instant she becomes next in line for the throne, she starts laying plans so fast even Cazaril can't keep up. Also, The Fox and Bergon.
    • Orico is a subversion. He demonstrably doesn't do anything important because of his fear of the curse, which sometimes puts the protagonists into quite a pickle. But it turns out that his part in the gods' plan was simply to survive long enough and let the next generation to come to age and have their own stab at removing the curse after Ista and Ias have botched their attempt, which he manages to do.
    • Ista's backstory is a painful subversion. She was touched by the Mother and became a saint, so she could learn what was necessary to break the royal curse. The attempt she, Ias, and dy Lutez made to break it ended in failure and dy Lutez's death, and a lot of stuff went wrong from there. It could very well be she wasn't meant to "do something" in this case and was meant to be the Gods' messenger to the right person at the right time, and so was always doomed to failure against the curse.
    • The Hallowed King was meant to be one, a paragon of the old Wealdings. In the centuries since the Darthacans had broken the Old Weald, the Hallowed Kingship became a mere political office. Mostly because Horseriver had at least half the magical power of the kingship with him down through the centuries, and none of the kings since then had any idea there was anything to it nor how to use it.
  • Rule of Three:
    • The eponymous Curse of Chalion can only be drawn back by the gods through the will of a man who would lay down his life three times for the House of Chalion.
    • Referenced, subverted, and (to an extent) played straight in Paladin of Souls. The second time Ista tells her story (to dy Cabon), she says "Perhaps some third occasion shall release me." The third time, however, doesn't; it's the fourth, where she's finally, fully honest with herself, that does. However, the first was in the previous book, so the final one is the third in this particular book.
  • Rules Lawyer: Learned Oswin is a medieval fantasy counterpart to a modern lawyer or barrister. He is often somewhat sardonically called a "most perfect servant of the Father," but all who know him respect his scholarly ability. Ingrey is infuriated when Oswin asks if Ingrey could be forced to remove Ijada's spirit animal after her hypothetical execution. When Ingrey implies he would resist (violently), Oswin points out to the judges that her execution would also include her eternal soul's sundering from the gods, a heinous sin if carried out. It is only after the fact that Ingrey realizes this is a powerful argument against executing her.
  • Running Gag: There are a few.
    • In The Curse of Chalion, several characters comment on how old Caz looks with his beard.
    • In Paladin of Souls, when a Chalionese character mocks Jokonan Prince Sordso—nicknamed "Sordso the Sot"—for drinking, writing morose poetry, and in general being totally un-statesmanlike, they will almost always follow it up with a grudging admission that his poetry is actually quite good.
    • The Hallowed Hunt
      • The actual origin of Jokol Skullsplitter's name.
      • Whether Jokol is a pirate or a prince.
      • Hallana's beleaguered attendants constantly retrieving her braids, capes, and pins, and repairing the small things damaged due to her magical Wake of Chaos.
    • Penric's Demon, Penric and the Shaman and Penric's Mission
      • People expressing surprise when they learn that Penric has given his demon a name.
      • Desdemona's running tally of vermin she's exterminated to feed her need to produce chaos. Verges on Black Humor in Penric's Mission, as she moves up from lice and bedbugs to rats and at least one diseased cat to fuel all of Penric's "uphill" magic.
  • Satan Is Good: Well, the Bastard is more akin to Loki. He may have a rude sense of humor and assist in the occasional (justifiable) murder-suicide, but his church runs orphanages and is largely responsible for the enlightened views of homosexuality that most of Chalion's world has.
    • In the competing Quadrene theology, the fifth god is conventionally evil, and all those "out of season" things in his domain are damnable sins (e.g. illegitimate children, homosexuality, demonic possession, etc).
  • Scars Are Forever:
    • Cazaril has horrible overlapping scars on his back from being whipped during his time on a Roknari galley. Fortunately they turn out to be Chekhov's Scars and help Royse Bergeon recognize him when they meet again in Ibra.
    • Adelis ends up with a large scar across his face after Penric successfully heals his eyes. In the end he figures he can make it work with his reputation as a military commander.
  • Secretly Dying: Cazaril after his death magic is prevented from Balancing Death's Books properly. He gets better, thanks to some more divine intervention at the end.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: The Old Wealdings used to practice Human Sacrifice as a way to speed their prayers to the gods. These sacrifices were willing, moved by desperation to make sure the gods heard their kinfolk's prayers when the gods took up the sacrifice's soul upon death. As the Darthacans invaded the Weald centuries ago, the Weald quickly ran out of willing sacrifices and started killing criminals and prisoners of war instead. And never stopped to think what kind of prayers these unwilling sacrifices must be taking up to the gods with them. No wonder the Five turned their back on the Old Weald.
  • Shout-Out: In The Curse of Chalion a young dedicat describes a book that is clearly a parallel-universe version of The Canterbury Tales.
    "It's a fine conceit," said Umegat. "The author follows a group of travelers to a pilgrimage shrine, and each one tells his or her tale in turn. Very, ah, holy."
    "Actually, my lord," the dedicat whispered, "some of them are very lewd."
    • The widow in the pilgrimage party that inspires Ista, who couldn't be more the Wife of Bath if she had that lady's name stamped on her forehead.
    • On their way to Orbas in Mira's Last Dance, Penric, Adelis and Nikys stop in a town in time to observe the double funeral of two young lovers from feuding families.
    • Sealmaster Hetwar and his relationship with Ingrey has a lot in common with Simon Ilyan and Miles Vorkosigan.
  • Smug Snake: Dondo dy Jironal makes his big brother look good.
  • Spare to the Throne: The death of the rebellious elder son of the Fox promotes Bergon from spare to the Heir of Ibra — and to the top of Iselle's short list of potential spouses. Then the death of Iselle's brother makes her the Heiress of Chalion.
    • Shows up peripherally in The Hallowed Hunt, as the eldest and youngest sons of the hallowed King have already died. Succession politics aren't central to the plot, but they are a crucial detail.
  • Spirited Young Lady: Though technically a princess, Royesse Iselle is more spirited than rebellious and, in all, fits this trope to a T. This may stem from the author's love of good Regency and Victorian literature.
    • Ista notes absently in Paladin of Souls that she was once "spirited" like her daughter Iselle, before she got caught up in the unfortunate events of her young marriage and the subsequent 20 years where everyone treated her as a madwoman. Ista spends much of the book rediscovering herself as a Spirited Middle-Aged Woman.
  • Take a Third Option: A Magnificent Bastardly subversion of this originates the enmity between Cazaril and Dondo.
  • Taking You with Me:
    • In a really crazy villainous version, Horseriver wants to take the souls of his dead warriors into oblivion with him, to spite the gods.
    • The essential nature of death magic. You conjure one of the Bastard's demons to kill someone, but the demon will take you too. It's a last resort "miracle of justice" when all mortal justice has failed, but the suicidal nature of it makes damn sure you are serious down to your soul about needing it.
    • In Penric's Mission, the enemy sorcerer tries to makes his demon do this. Kyrato tries to give Penric a heart-attack, knowing that Penric's death will drag Kyrato's demon to hell but leave him alive. It fails, and Penric gives him a very stern lecture about treating his demon more respectfully.
  • That Old-Time Prescription: Ingrey was given a pain-reliving medication made from poppies (among other things).
  • That Was the Last Entry: Cazaril finds an encrypted diary belonging to a man who practiced death magic. The encryption is easy, but tedious, to crack, so when he finds himself wanting to practice death magic in turn, he realizes that he only actually has to read the last entry of the diary to figure out what worked...
  • Those Two Guys: Ferda and Foix dy Gura. Foix is promoted to a more regular secondary cast role in Paladin, while Ferda disappears for most of the book.
  • Trickster Mentor: The Bastard. He even exults in His chosen railing against Him because it means they're thinking about the crappy situation they're in where even a god needs their help. And because it amuses Him.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Cazaril feels this way about himself and Betriz. She, on the other hand, doesn't care about his premature aging, missing fingers, horrible scars or the fact that he's almost twice her age - but she does make him shave off his beard.
  • Unable to Support a Wife: Cazaril pleads this at one point.
  • Warrior Poet: Jokol
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Arhys to his father, the Chancellor dy Lutez, until the man's death.
    "I had a real father. Arhys... had a dream."
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: A theme of the Penric novellas. Most sorcerers treat their demon as a thing or dangerous animal. Penric gives his a name and treats her respectfully, and she has reciprocated by becoming his friend. He's trying to spread the word and enact change, but it's difficult — many people assume his demon has made him Brainwashed and Crazy.
  • When He Smiles: Ijada thinks Ingrey's smile is devastating.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Centuries of byzantine political plotting actually all boiled down to Horseriver trying to die.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Horseriver's plans tend toward this. He knows the Gods will take every opportunity to foil him, so he has plans to work around whatever impediment they throw at him. We see several of his backup plans, such as the stag in his stables.

Alternative Title(s): The Curse Of Chalion, Paladin Of Souls, The Hallowed Hunt, Penrics Demon

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/Chalion