Title: The Curse of Chalion
Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Published: 2001, Eos
I recently read one of Bujold's sci-fi books and liked it a lot, so I thought I'd try this fantasy. I had also heard that it had a pretty strong romantic element, which you know I like. As with most fantasies, the setting is a medieval alternate reality, a world much like our own but with a little magic thrown in.
The story begins with the hero Cazaril returning home from a war, battered in body and broken in spirit. A nobleman who has lost his lands, he seeks employment at the home of the grandmother of the royse (like a prince). He is offered the job of secretary to the royesse, or princess, Iselle. While protecting Iselle, he discovers that a curse has been placed on the royal family and must figure out how to rid them of it before they are all ruined.
I really love Bujold's writing. They're pretty massive books, but in a good way--the pages just melt away because you're so involved in the story. And Cazaril is a wonderful hero--self-sacrificing, noble, and wise.
My only complaint is a slight overemphasis on their rather bizarre religion. And the thing with the tumor was a little off-putting to say the least. But all in all, it was excellent. A good tale of court intrigue and daring adventure--plus a very sweet, if subtle, love story.