Review: Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold

Review: Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster BujoldPenric and the Shaman Formats available: ebook
Series: World of the Five Gods #1.6, Penric and Desdemona #2
Pages: 160
on June 24th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & Noble

In this NOVELLA set in The World of the Five Gods and four years after the events in “Penric’s Demon”, Penric is a divine of the Bastard’s Order as well as a sorcerer and scholar, living in the palace where the Princess-Archdivine holds court. His scholarly work is interrupted when the Archdivine agrees to send Penric, in his role as sorcerer, to accompany a “Locator" of the Father’s Order, assigned to capture Inglis, a runaway shaman charged with the murder of his best friend. However, the situation they discover in the mountains is far more complex than expected. Penric’s roles as sorcerer, strategist, and counselor are all called upon before the end.

My Review:

penrics demon by lois mcmaster bujoldLast year, when I read Penric’s Demon, one of the very, very few things that I did not like about the story was that I wasn’t sure there would be any more of them. Penric’s Demon was a little gem, and it returned me to a world that I had enjoyed, that of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Chalion series.

They’re back and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Like Penric’s Demon, Penric and the Shaman is a little gem of a story, perfect for an afternoon’s delectation. Also like Penric’s Demon, it doesn’t feel necessary to have read the main series, or certainly not to have read the main series remotely recently.

However, the action in Penric and the Shaman is a direct followup to the events in Demon, albeit four years later. So definitely read Penric’s Demon first. It’s lovely and a lot of fun.

Now that it is four years after the events in Demon, Penric is living with the results of his decisions at the end of that book. He is now Learned Penric, a sorcerer and scholar, as well as a divine in the service of his god, Lord Bastard. Penric’s personality, along with that of his demon Desdemona, is imminently suited to service to a chaotic trickster god.

Both Lord Bastard in general and Desdemona in specific enjoy disorder and a bit of chaos. This does not make either of them evil. It does however, make service to Lord Bastard interesting and occasionally makes having Desdemona residing in his head and occasionally taking over his body (or at least his voice) sometimes troublesome.

On the other hand, no place that Penric stays in for more than five minutes has a flea or other pestilence problem. Desdemona usually kills all the pests in Penric’s vicinity to pay for whatever trouble she causes. And her troubles are usually much less of a nuisance to the general population than whatever varmints have been eliminated. At least to everyone except Penric.

The story in Penric and the Shaman is all about the magic. Not just the small magics that Desdemona performs, but also the magics of the five gods and the older magics that their worship supplanted.

It is necessary in the story to understand that these gods are REAL. Penric has met the Lord Bastard, and other people occasionally meet one of the gods. Not often enough to make it anything like commonplace, but more than often enough to prove that these are REAL beings.

Penric is sent on a quest to find a hedge-shaman who may have committed a murder. Or who may have enacted a rite of old magic. Or maybe both. But the agent of the Winter Father’s temple needs to catch this man before he kills again. If he killed before, that is. Or before he goes crazy. Or before other people find him and kill him in a frenzy of mob violence. These things happen.

But both Penric and Oswyl have really been sent by the gods to solve a mystery and right a wrong. Just not the wrong that they set out to fix.

Escape Rating A-: I threw out my reading schedule to pick this up the minute I got it, and I’m very glad I did.

All three of the point of view characters in this story are not just good guys, but also very interesting guys. Not just Penric, but also Oswyl, the “Locator” (read police officer) who starts the story with a very large stick up his fundament, and Inglis, our poor, hapless, potential murderer.

While there are times when one gets the feeling that Lord Bastard arranged this mess for his own amusement, in the end, it is the Father, the god of Winter and male maturity who seems to be the force pushing events toward their righteous and necessary conclusion.

But it is Penric who drives local events and pretty much steals the show. He is both likable and interesting. Because he came to his service through very unconventional means (see Penric’s Demon for details) he has an even more unconventional approach than the Bastard’s divines usually do. He also enjoys playing a few tricks himself, hiding who he is until the reveal is necessary. Or interesting.

Penric also reminds me a bit of Quaeryt from Modesitt’s Imager Portfolio, in the part of the series that starts with Scholar. They are both relatively young men holding a surprising amount of power for their age and seeming lack of maturity, and both are wise beyond their years while still able to see the absurdity of it all. Both also take very unconventional approaches to the problems they face.

In the end, Penric and the Shaman has elements of a murder mystery, as Penric and Oswyl track down a possible killer. But it is also a book about the preservation of magic in the world, and a story about things seeming much different, much more interesting and much less obvious, than they appear.

I sincerely hope that the author returns again to this world and these characters. These stories are beautiful little jewels.