This book really grew on me. I almost stopped reading it at about 20%, but pressed onward, and I’m glad I did, because I feel like I learned something important about writing from this book. When I got to about 35% I was hooked, and when I got to about 40% I was riveted. I won’t spoil it but if you’ve read the book you probably know the events that caused the riveting. The book has a lot of religious themes after the 40% mark which are really interesting.
I said I learned something important about writing, and that was: People that give advice on how to write aren’t always right. Or perhaps I should say: Successful authors don’t always follow the rules. I knew that before, but this book really exemplified it. Fully the first 1/3 of the book is a prologue or preamble or backstory. The "inciting incident" that propelled the main character past the point of no return didn’t occur until precisely the 37% mark. That is *completely* contrary to the "in-late, out-early" formula drilled into every new writer’s head. By conventional new-writer wisdom, the "inciting incident" should occur at approximately the 0% mark, or possibly even a negative percentage mark and told in flashback, because we are told that you only have a sentence or a paragraph or maybe — if you’re very lucky — a page or two to hook new readers. Bujold threw that advice completely out the window. And the book was published in 2001, so it’s not like it’s an old book from the 60s when people had more attention spans.
(Granted, she had several award-winning and -nominated novels under her belt prior to writing this one, so she already had a fan base that would read no matter what. New writers don’t have that luxery.)
The book felt extremely epic, yet it was written with only one POV, defying the notion that you have to write a dozen different POV characters to write epic fantasy.
Almost no time was spent on traveling, despite the fact that the main character changed settings several times. To me, this was amazing, because I find myself mired in "road trip" chapters all too often. It’s nice to see that you can just skip over a long journey if you need to.
Another thing I found amazing was that *there was no action in this book.* I mean, there were no sword fights, no chases, no dungeons, no wars, no rope-swinging, no fist-fights, no hanging from ledges by a fingernail, no nothing. Well, okay, there was a little bit of sword-fighting toward the end, but it was almost an after-thought. It was 99% medieval court politics and human relationships and religious philosophy, and yet somehow those topics which sound insufferably boring on the surface were made tense and exciting. And it was elegantly written to boot, with a wide variety of interesting grammar and vocabulary.
I feel like describing Curse as a "classy" book, as opposed to something like a Game of Thrones which I might be tempted to call "crass" by comparison. Those aren’t very good words, but hopefully you know what I mean.