Posted by: kshayes513 | January 10, 2009

Reading: Lois McMaster Bujold

Lois McMaster Bujold: The Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls, The Hallowed Hunt

About 8 years back Lois McMaster Bujold was Guest of Honor at Arisia in Boston, on the strength of her much loved Miles Vorkosigan series. Along with speaking and signing and all the other stuff GOH’s do, she gave a reading to a spellbound audience, of the first chapter of her newest, soon to be published book, The Curse of Chalion. And I was completely hooked.


This is at least my third reading of The Curse of Chalion in the 8 years since it was published, and the second for the other two more recent novels. Since I rarely reread any books these days except for old favorites that I consider “comfort reading”, this reread puts these books among my top favorites.

Make no mistake, I love the Miles Vorkosigan books, too. But there’s something about Chalion, its people and its gods, that goes right to my heart.

Chalion and its neighboring kingdoms were born, apparently, when Bujold got interested in the history and politics of the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal) in the Renaissance. So the world is both distinct from standard “Northern European fantasy”, and familiarly European, especially to anyone acquainted with the age of Shakespeare and the Borgias: full of intrigue, with kingdoms competing for territory, and noblemen and women vying for power in the courts.

Then Bujold throws in the Five Gods (or more likely, they revealed themselves and said, “these stories belong to Us. “) There’s no magic in Chalion except the miracles of the gods, and the power of sorcerers possessed by demons, and shamans possessed by animal spirits. The principle character of each of these novels is god touched-and though the gods themselves are entirely benevolent, being a saint or a shaman is not for the faint-hearted or self-serving.

Creating Chalion involved a lot of fairly straightforward worldbuilding, I’d guess, starting with heavy research into the period, and digressing off from the historical research to wherever the story took her. The Five Gods being the biggest digression, since their institutions of worship bear little resemblance to the powerful Catholic Church of that era.

There’s a deeper question here for me. Bujold has created a world I love to visit. This seems to me  essential for the success of any book, RPG, comic, whatever. People read books and play games, watch TV series, in part because they like spending time in the worlds they’ve chosen.

So how does any worldbuilder create a world that people will want to visit?


  1. How does any worldbuilder create a world that people will want to visit? By loving that world, believing in it, and being able to bring it into their daily lives (see Tolkien’s letters, and how often he does that with Middle-earth!).

  2. Loving and believing in the world are essential to start, but that can’t be all of it. I can imagine someone creating a fantasy world that embodies their own narrow obsessions, that would have little or no appeal to anyone else (I think I’ve read stories from some of those worlds, in a few workshops and fanfiction boards).
    To have wider appeal, the world, and the stories that take place within it, have to a universal aspect, that touches a wide number of people. What that aspect is, every worldbuilder has to find for herself, and probably not by looking for it or forcing it.
    And of course, it helps if there’s a certain amount of skill involved in presenting the world. I’ve abandoned reading/watching any number of stories with intriguing plots, because the execution was clumsy or just didn’t engage me.

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