I reread this in anticipation of reading the second in the trilogy, Paladin of Souls Had forgotten how much I liked it. Had forgotten how very readable Bujold's prose is: there's little that I want to quote directly for beauty of expression, but whole passages that I'd like to point to for their rhythm and progression.
Had also, conveniently, forgotten the ending. (I remembered two key plot points but not their significance in the greater scheme.)
The Curse of Chalion reminds me of why I used to devour fantasy novels by the pound: in the hope of finding truly likeable (and by this I may simply mean 'credibly human and three-dimensional') characters. All too often this hope is unfulfilled: in The Curse of Chalion, though, I have a real affection for the protagonist. Cazaril is not a hero, or doesn't mean to be. He's not some brave young prince riding towards a perilous fate. He's mature enough to be vulnerable and frightened: he curses the gods for intervening in his life. His despair is not an epic one, but a human one, and Bujold paints it vividly.
Or, another aspect: this is a fantasy novel that starts where many novels would end. The hero, a brave young nobleman, is betrayed and sold into slavery; risks death for another; is finally rescued, and makes his way home. End of story? Start of story. (Hmm, have just noted a striking resemblance to A Game of Kings.)
Bujold's often labelled as a romantic writer and yes, there's a romance in here: but it doesn't take centre stage, because there are more important things going on. Indeed, the glorious wedding that takes place is brokered for steely-calm political reasons. At the centre of it all is the curse, and the Five Gods, and a land divided by war: and it reads more realistically, with more emotional depth, than many works of contemporary fiction.