Tag Archives: god

The Curse of Chalion, by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Curse of Chalion

The Curse of Chalion, by Lois McMaster Bujold

This book, and its sequel, Paladin of Souls, are two of my favourite books. I have read both of them multiple times, and I will read them multiple more times.

Cazaril is a man who has hit rock bottom. Of noble birth, his military career has been one disaster after another, in the service of the perennially unlucky ruler of Chalion. His final posting, as a castle warder, resulted in a nine-month siege; it only ended when he was ordered by his superiors to surrender. All his officers were ransomed except for him; he and the other unransomed men were sold as galley slaves. So, after the ship on which he was a slave is captured by the navy of the neighbouring country, Ibra, Cazaril walks back to the castle where he was a page as a boy, intending to beg for a place as a servant. He has lost his sword, his money, his career, and his health. But he has not lost his honour.

A stroke of luck gives him a little money and some decent clothes, so he can beg for shelter as himself, rather than having to pretend to be a commoner. And so he eventually ends up as the new secretary-tutor to the Royesse (princess-equivalent) Iselle and her lady-companion, Betriz.

Iselle is an intelligent and energetic young woman, somewhat more clever than her younger brother, Teidez, who is the heir to Chalion – their much-older half-brother, the ruler, being childless. When both young people are called to Court, it is Cazaril’s task to steer Iselle and Betriz through the dangerous waters of diplomacy.

And it is at Court that he learns that the ruling family of Chalion is under a curse (hence their perennial bad luck), and the only way to break it is for a man to lay down his life three times for the House of Chalion.

This sounds impossible; a man might lay down his life once, but three times?

But Cazaril, wholly committed to the Royesse Iselle, is determined to save her, at whatever cost to him, body and soul, is necessary.

This is a story of love, honour, courage, tragedy, sacrifice, faith, and theology. It’s a story of destiny, and free will. But it is ultimately the story of Cazaril, a man who has lost everything, regained much, and is willing to lose everything again to save his Royesse and his country.

Oath of Swords, by David Weber

Oath of Swords

Oath of Swords, by David Weber

David Weber is famous for his Honor Harrington science fiction/space opera series, and not every author can do fantasy and sci fi successfully.

David Weber, however, most certainly can.

If you are expecting something like Honor Harrington, but with more swords (OK, not that many more swords) but fewer spaceships, forget it. Oath of Swords is something else entirely. This is a funny, observant romp of a traditional swords-and-sorcery fantasy novel.

In Weber’s fantasy world, there are five ‘races of man’ – humans, dwarves, elves, halflings and hradani. The hradani are a kind of orc-equivalent – large and violent – and Our Hero, Bahzell, is one of them. This immediately marks the book off from other fantasy novels as the hero is not straight vanilla human, and he’s from a race that’s traditionally the Bad Guys in fantasy. In fact, since Bahzell’s world is several hundred years after a fairly apocalyptic mage war in which the hradani fought on the wrong side, hradani are seen as the Bad Guys by everyone who isn’t a hradani in this book too. The lingering prejudice against hradani is a running theme in the book.

Bahzell, being the son of the ruler of one of the hradani city-states, is a sort of envoy crossed with hostage at the court of another hradani prince. He interferes in some local nastiness which results in him having to flee (with the female victim) for his life. His local friend, Brandark, goes with him ‘to keep him out of trouble’.

The rest of the book is the chronicle of Bahzell and Brandark’s amusingly ill-fated journey across the continent, dealing with evildoers, rescuing maidens in distress, and confronting unwanted gods. Unwanted by Bahzell, anyway. There are plenty of running jokes throughout the book, and Weber takes the opportunity to play with as many well-known fantasy tropes as he can conveniently handle, either playing them straight or twisting them into interesting pretzel shapes. But behind the humour, you do get some sense of what it’s like to be an orc in Lord of the Rings – you get pressganged by the Dark Lord, you get magically changed into something else, and then the so-called Good Guys put all the blame on you for it, and keep blaming you (and your descendents) for the next several hundred years. Not that you’ve got much time for self-pity in amongst trying to put your shattered society and culture back together.

Although this is quite definitely ‘light fantasy’, it has enough depth to be interesting and Weber has written characters that you like (or like to hate) so you want to read on in order to find out what happens to them, and what scrape Bahzell (and Brandark) is going to get into next. It’s good clean fun, and I’ve read it more times than I like to admit.

Angelology

Angelology is a real word. It means ‘the study of angels’. There are even books on it.

There seems to be two types of angelology: the study of angels as they appear in religious artefacts (books, sculpture etc) and also study of the angels themselves.

How do you study angels? I mean, it’s not like you can set a trap (humane, of course) and bait it with… what? A soul? Or put an ad in the local paper. “Wanted: Angel(s) for interview.” So angelology traditionally means a lot of extrapolation and a lot of speculation.

Angels appear in all the Abrahamic religions (as you’d expect from religions sharing a common origin) as guardians of humanity and messengers of God. The concept of divine messengers also occurs in other religions, although the terminology may not be the same.

But hey, I think I’ll stick to the Abrahamics, if it’s all the same to you. Include Hinduism etc, and we could be here all day.

There are lots of angels, and mostly their names end in ‘-el’, which is a suffix meaning ‘of God’ in Hebrew. Others end in ‘-yah’ which means ‘Lord’, again in Hebrew. An exception is Metatron, who doesn’t seem to have any clear etymology behind him (no, nothing to do with insects – that’s entomology). Maybe at some time in the future I’ll make a list of angels and their duties (for example, Metatron is – some say – the only angel who can look upon the face of God, and hence is known as Prince of the Countenance). But it would be a long list.

Angels allegedly come in different ranks, although there isn’t much agreement on how the ranks are arranged. The different orders of angel are as follows:

Seraphim,
Cherubim,
Thrones (or Ophanim, or Erelim),
Dominions (or Dominations),
Virtues (or Authorities),
Powers (or Potentates),
Principalities (or Rulers),
Archangels,
Angels.

About the only thing angelologists seem to agree on is that Seraphim are at the top of the pile, and Cherubim second. Archangels are second-from-bottom, and ordinary common-or-garden Angels are right at the bottom of the heap. Everything else is negotiable; I’ve used St Thomas Aquinas’ ordering; he groups his in three hierarchies of three orders of angel.

Putti – those little winged babies you get all over baroque art – don’t count. They’re Art, not Theology, and confusing them with Cherubim is likely to get you smacked if a Cherub hears you.

Whatever ranking the different orders of angels have, the further up the ranks you go, the less the angels have to do with humanity, or at least with individual humans – the intermediate grades of angel might be responsible for whole countries. When you get right to the top (Seraphim), their job is apparently to surround the throne of God, constantly shouting praises. (I have to say, my first thought is, Don’t they get laryngitis or something? and my second thought is Isn’t that rather distracting? Does this explain the duck-billed platypus?)

Right at the bottom of the scale, you’ve got ordinary angels, who seem to be the gophers of heaven. (As in go-fer-it, not as in cute rodents that live in large communities.) There’s some debate over whether Gabriel is an angel or an archangel, and whether Michael, who is definitely an archangel, is the kind that’s nearly at the bottom of the heap, or whether he’s an Arch-Angel, as in, top-dog angel in charge of all the rest.

So far, I haven’t found out where angels come from; presumably created by God directly. Unlike demons, for whom the Abrahamic religions have at least two alternative explanations that I know of (I’ll probably talk about demons later). There also doesn’t appear to be much opportunity for promotion; angels don’t seem to die, and nor do they seem to change position in the ranks. Great if you’re Metatron, less good if you’re one of the minions.

I think I’ll stop there; wouldn’t want to bore you.

And here is some angel-related music: Let All the Angels of God Worship Him from Handel’s Messiah.