The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 12-31-17

Sunday Post

Happy New Year’s Eve!

Welcome to the hospital edition of The Sunday Post. I thought I had food poisoning. Instead, I picked up a gut bug somewhere and have spent this weekend in the hospital. Hopefully I can go home tomorrow. I really, really miss the kitties.

In spite of the extremely unfortunately end to the year, it was still a regular week with regular things going on. And tomorrow starts what will hopefully be a better and brighter New Year!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Midwinter’s Eve Giveaway Hop (ends TONIGHT!)
Three Kingmaker Bundles from Sourcebooks
Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins
A Most Unlikely Duke by Sophie Barnes (3 paperbacks)

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the $10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Twelve Days of Christmas Giveaway Hop is Sherry

Blog Recap:

Christmas Day 2017
A Review: Heart on Fire by Amanda Bouchet + Giveaway
17 for 2017 : My Best Books of 2017
A- Review: Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins + Giveaway
B+ Review: The Duke of Her Desire by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway
Stacking the Shelves (268)

Coming Next Week:

January Book of Choice Giveaway Hop
Most Anticipated Books of 2018
Jeepers! It’s January Giveaway Hop
The Art of Running in Heels by Rachel Gibson (blog tour review)
A Distant Heart by Sonali Dev (blog tour review)

Stacking the Shelves (268)

Stacking the Shelves

Welcome to the last and final Stacking the Shelves post of the year. A post in which I’m not actually stacking anything. I did get a few books this week, but not much.

As I said in last week’s STS, my mother went into hospice last Thursday. She passed away on Xmas Day, and her funeral was Wednesday. It was a blustery 6 degrees in Cincinnati that day. I had to borrow one of her coats to have something halfway warm enough to wear at her graveside ceremony. Which felt more than a bit weird, but it still smelled like her perfume and that was surprisingly comforting.

We’re finally home, but it seems that I brought a case of food poisoning home with me along with everything we cleaned out of her apartment. I’m toast.

Which doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t add a link to your Stacking the Shelves post in the linky below.

Happy Holidays, Season’s Greetings and a safe New Year’s to you and yours.

Review: The Duke of Her Desire by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Duke of Her Desire by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Duke of Her Desire (Diamonds in the Rough #2) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Diamonds in the Rough #2
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on December 26th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


He was only supposed to keep an eye on his friend’s sister . . . now he’s about to lose his heart . . .

When Thomas Heathmore, Duke of Coventry, agrees to steer his friend’s inexperienced younger sister through society, he doesn’t expect the lady in question to be so infernally stubborn. Amelia Matthews seems to have little interest in balls or suitors at all. Instead, she intends to open a school, and against his better instincts, Thomas offers to help. Yet somewhere along the line, Amelia ceases to be a simple responsibility . . . and becomes an undeniable temptation.

Since her brother inherited a dukedom, Amelia’s prospects have transformed. But though she’s long been secretly infatuated with Thomas, she refuses to heed the arrogant aristocrat’s advice. If only it were as easy to ignore his heated touch. And as Amelia soon learns, the ton is a minefield, where one moment’s indiscretion can unleash a scandal—or entice her to surrender everything to the duke of her desire . . .

My Review:

In the past couple of months I have read a lot of Sophie Barnes, and they’ve all been a lot of fun, particularly A Most Unlikely Duke, the first book in her Diamonds in the Rough series. This second book in the series is every bit as much of a romp as the first.

The series features the family of the newly elevated Duke of Huntley, who was discovered to be living in the slums of St. Giles when he inherited his title, along with his two sisters Amelia and Juliette. Once upon a time they were gentry – until their father committed suicide and their mother abandoned them.

Now, after a lot of unexpected deaths between Raphe and the title, he is now a Duke. The story of his semi-adjustment to his new status, as well as his finding his happily ever after, is the story that is told in A Most Unlikely Duke.

But now that Raphe is settled (or as settled as he’ll ever be), it is his sister Amelia’s turn. Their new society friends believe that Amelia’s turn needs to be fairly urgent – she is over 20 and if she does not marry this Season she will be labeled as permanently on-the-shelf and doomed to eternal spinsterhood.

There are at least two problems with seemingly everyone’s plan to find Amelia a suitable husband and marry her off posthaste.

While some of the high-sticklers in the ton think that Amelia’s background in St. Giles will prevent her from ever being “one of them”, her background per se is not the problem. What is a problem is that her sudden elevation from poverty to riches, combined with her own gifts in mathematics and other subjects that women of the ton never even get near to, has left her with a desire that borders on compulsion to find a way to give back to society in the broader sense and St. Giles in particular. She wants to found a school for the children of the area so that they can have a chance to escape the grinding poverty and make something of themselves.

She is more than willing to put herself and her reputation at risk to achieve her goal, and is unwilling to accept much aid or any restriction in its pursuit.

The other stumbling block to everyone’s plans for Amelia to marry someone “suitable” is that Amelia has already fallen in love with someone that she believes is well above her touch. As a Duke the equal of her brother, Thomas, Duke of Coventry is more than suitable for her, but she is certain that with her background she is far from suitable for him. And his treatment of her, correcting her at every turn, reinforces that view.

But the real problem between them is that Coventry doesn’t believe he is in a position to marry anyone. He is raising his late sister’s bastard child as his own, and keeping that secret is worth sacrificing his own happiness for. But Coventry’s plan to hold Amelia at a figurative rather than a literal arm’s length is doomed when Raphe asks him to watch over Amelia and Jessica while he is away on his honeymoon, and Coventry discovers that the only way to protect Amelia in her mad plan to open a school is to help her with it.

The more time they spend together, the less they are able to resist each other. But when their marriage seems as if it is forced, they both try to turn away from their best hope of happiness.

Escape Rating B+:The Duke of Her Desire is every bit as delightful as A Most Unlikely Duke. I think that this one might have been just a bit more fun as the story is mostly told from Amelia’s perspective – and she is anything but a typical society heroine.

So often in historical romances the woman has had a very sheltered upbringing and needs time to learn her own mind before she can insist on having it. This is definitely not the case with Amelia. Like her brother Raphe, she is old enough when the family is ennobled to be all too aware of the contradictions and the injustices that are part of life among the upper crust. While she feels disheartened by the people who won’t accept her, she is also fairly sure of who she herself is and what her values are – and what she needs to do to live out those values. She also chafes at the loss of freedom that comes from being part of society. Her life was freer, and had more purpose, in St. Giles.

Coventry is an interesting choice for a hero. He is trying so hard to do the right thing by both Amelia and his son/nephew Jeremy. In the conflict that he perceives between those two desires he is often priggish and in a foul mood with all and sundry, including his adored mother – who is eventually forced to give him a well-deserved dressing down over the hash he is making of his life. But his conflict between his best intentions and his basest desires is constant, and only resolved when he finally gets his head out of his gorgeous ass about the situation.

If you like historical romances with unconventional heroines, and especially if you enjoy historical fiction that takes a good hard look at both sides of the way things were (and were not), the Diamonds in the Rough series is marvelous fun.

I’m now looking forward to the next book in the series, The Illegitimate Duke, where Juliette goes after the man she’s loved all along. In spite of everything that says he doesn’t deserve her. Because of course he does.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

LINK:  https://goo.gl/xXFeax

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. Three winners will receive a paperback copy of A Most Unlikely Duke by Sophie Barnes.  This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 1/5/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address.  Duplicates will be deleted.

Review: Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins + Giveaway

Review: Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins + GiveawayNow That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 384
Published by Harlequin Books on December 26th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

One step forward. Two steps back. The Tufts scholarship that put Nora Stuart on the path to becoming a Boston medical specialist was a step forward. Being hit by a car and then overhearing her boyfriend hit on another doctor when she thought she was dying? Two major steps back.

Injured in more ways than one, Nora feels her carefully built life cracking at the edges. There's only one place to land: home. But the tiny Maine community she left fifteen years ago doesn't necessarily want her. At every turn, someone holds the prodigal daughter of Scupper Island responsible for small-town drama and big-time disappointments.

With a tough islander mother who's always been distant and a wild-child sister in jail, unable to raise her daughter--a withdrawn teen as eager to ditch the island as Nora once was--Nora has her work cut out for her if she's going to take what might be her last chance to mend the family.

But as some relationships crumble around her, others unexpectedly strengthen. Balancing loss and opportunity, a dark event from her past with hope for the future, Nora will discover that tackling old pain makes room for promise...and the chance to begin again.

My Review:

Robert Frost said that “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” He said nothing about them having to like it. Or you.

Nora Stuart feels like she has to return home, to tiny Scupper Island, to see if she can get her life back on track after an accident. And a wake up call.

Nora’s life has been gray for a while now. She’s been going through the motions after something she refers to cryptically as the “Big Bad Event”. She figures that she’ll snap out of it eventually, and go back to being bright, sparkling, electric Nora, who escaped her tiny island home, her broken family, and her history as the high school “troll” to become a successful doctor.

But when the Beantown Bug Killers van mows her down and nearly kills her outside the hospital, it’s kind of a cosmic kick in the pants. As is waking up in recovery to see her boyfriend telling her nurse that he was planning to break up with her but now can’t as she’ll need help after her accident.

Nora decides she doesn’t need his help THAT bad. She can always go home to her mother on Scupper Island, and face all the demons she left behind. And while that might seem a bit melodramatic, the fact is that in high school, the other students pretty much were demons in the way they tormented fat, lonely, miserable Nora.

Going back will give her the chance to mend fences with her extremely capable but emotionally distant mother, reconnect with the niece that she has been ruthlessly pushed away from, and hopefully discover what really happened the day her father left the island and his family forever, and seemingly took all the bright happiness of her childhood with him.

But Nora left Scupper Island 17 years ago with the town scholarship to Tufts University, and no one seems to have forgotten that Nora “stole” the scholarship that should have gone to the town’s golden boy, That scholarship was given to the high school senior with the highest GPA, and Nora won fair and square. Not that anyone believes that, not even Nora.

Even though small towns have long memories, Nora discovers that some things (and people) have changed. A lot. And some not at all.

The question is whether Nora has changed enough to let herself be, not the miserable child she was, nor the bright, sparkly person she chose to be, but the person she really is. And to discover the best life to make that person, her real self, happy.

Escape Rating A-: Kristan Higgins writes quintessential “women’s fiction”, and as much as I hate the term, I love her storytelling.

The story of Now That You Mention It is all about Nora and her relationships with the women in her life; her unapproachable mother, her lost sister, and her disaffected niece, but it’s also about Nora’s relationship with the person she used to be. Part of her journey is for Boston-Nora-the-Doctor to make peace with Scupper-Island-Nora, formerly known as the troll. And it’s not going to be easy for those two people to meet in the mushy middle and make up Nora-who-is-just-Nora.

There is a romance as part of Nora’s journey, but it’s not the focus of the story. The focus is on Nora making peace with her own past and taking charge of her own present.

Her past has a lot of crap in it that needs to be uncovered and worked through. Nora’s memories of life on Scupper Island after her father left are as painful to read as they would have been to experience. In the wake of that unresolved tragedy, Nora threw herself into academic overachievement and self-comforting overeating, while her sister turned into a bitchy member of the in-crowd of Nora’s tormentors and her mother just kept things together as best as she could.

Now it’s up to Nora and her mother to make some kind of peace, and for the town to make its peace with Nora. And for her to do for her niece what she was never able to do for her sister, and to find out why.

In the end, this is the story of a healing journey for those who can be healed, like Nora and her mother Sharon and niece Poe. It’s also about the acceptance of the things that can’t be changed. Like the past. And her sister.

Nora’s memories of her past on the island make for hard reading. Anyone who remembers being bullied at school may also find them triggering, and I’ll confess I skipped a bit through those parts. But they add depth and poignancy to Nora’s difficult but ultimately rewarding journey.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I’m giving away a copy of Now That You Mention It to one lucky (US/CAN) commenter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

17 for 2017 : My Best Books of 2017

I always say I’m not going to keep doing it this way, that the numbers just can’t keep going up every year, but then I get to actually doing the list and discover that it works out. Again.

This is my list of the best books of my year, with a couple of Amy’s in the honorable mentions because she loved them so much. These are the books that either stuck with me, or that I kept trying to shove into other people’s hands, or both.

There’s more non-fiction this year than usual. It seems like it was a great year for narrative non-fiction that reads every bit as well as fiction. A couple of these are going to end up on my Hugo Awards nomination list, because they were absolutely awesome science fiction and/or fantasy that deserves a recognition. A special shout-out to The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis, her amazing debut novel, which was my first A+ review for the year.

And a grateful shout out to Kevin Hearne and his publishers for A Plague of Giants. I heard about this book while writing my SF/F Spotlight article for Library Journal, and just had to have it. Kevin not only gave me a quote for the article, but also helped me pester the publisher to get me an eARC from NetGalley (and, as it turned out, Edelweiss). I cast that net as wide as possible and hooked a real gem.

I have two other best lists, but they have different venues, and also different sets of restrictions, where this list is  whatever I want it to be. My best e-originals for 2017 are part of the Library Journal Best Books 2017 mega-article. And my best SFR for 2017 will appear in January, as part of the SFR Galaxy Awards.

Although 2017 certainly had its ups and downs in real life, the year in books was fantastic!

Best Books of 2017:

American War by Omar El Akkad
The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
Glass Houses by Louise Penny
Grant by Ron Chernow
The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis
The Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne
White Hot by Ilona Andrews
Wildfire by Ilona Andrews
The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone

Honorable Mentions:

Apollo 8 by Jeffrey Kluger
The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai
Kith and Kin by Kris Ripper (guest review by Amy)
The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston
Outsystem by M.D. Cooper (guest review by Amy)
Wrong to Need You by Alisha Rai

Review: Heart on Fire by Amanda Bouchet + Giveaway

Review: Heart on Fire by Amanda Bouchet + GiveawayHeart on Fire (Kingmaker Chronicles, #3) by Amanda Bouchet
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy romance
Series: Kingmaker Chronicles #3
Pages: 416
Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca on January 2nd 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The riveting conclusion to the Kingmaker Chronicles, available January 2018!

Who is Catalia Fisa?With the help of pivotal figures from her past, Cat begins to understand the root of her exceptional magic, her fated union with Griffin Sinta, and Griffin's role in shaping her destiny.

Only Cat holds the key to unlocking her own power, and that means finally accepting herself, her past, and her future in order to protect her loved ones, confront her murderous mother, and taking a final, terrifying step--reuniting all three realms and taking her place as the Queen of Thalyria.

What doesn't kill her will only make her stronger...we hope.

My Review:

Heart on Fire is the stunning and searing (sometimes literally) conclusion to the Kingmaker Chronicles, begun in 2016 with the author’s intense debut novel, A Promise of Fire. About which I had some very mixed feelings.

There are no mixed feelings as I close the final chapter. The beginning of Cat and Griffin’s story needed to be what it was (mostly) in order to reach this remarkable finale in Heart on Fire.

If you’ve heard a friend rave about this series, and you probably have, you need to read it in order, from the promise of marvels in A Promise of Fire, to the flush of possibility in Breath of Fire to this wow of an ending here in Heart on Fire, because yours will be too.

The story of this series is a combination of heroine’s journey and romance, but with a whole lot of mythology mixed in. Particularly that of the Greek pantheon. It turns out that as much as Catalina Fisa is the daughter of her monstrous mother, she is also the child of the gods. Not just one or two, but in a metaphysical way, ALL of them.

And they all seem to have a vested interest in not just keeping Cat alive, but finding ways to make sure that she survives, thrives and comes into the vast heritage of magic they have invested her with. Not just so she can topple her mother from her throne, but so that Cat, in partnership with her husband Griffin, can end the corruption that rules all of their land, and start over.

Literally start over. Because Cat discovers that she is the embodiment of “Origin” and her purpose is to wipe the slate clean and create a fresh start for all the peoples of her world.

If she can just manage to get her head out of her own ass long enough to figure out how her magic works. So she can kill her mother.

Escape Rating A: This certainly ends the year (or begins it, as it won’t be published until next week) with a bang. And a few whimpers. Cat’s journey has been long, hard and frequently dark. The story of Heart on Fire is literally the story of Cat’s heart finally catching fire, so that the woman can forgive herself first.

She needs to learn an awful lot of hard lessons to find the balance that she needs in her life in order for her to access the magic that has been inside her all along. And Cat is pretty stubborn about believing the worst of herself and it takes a lot of effort on the part of all the gods as well as a lot of pain and anguish on Cat’s part for the lesson to finally sink in. This is often a hard story, and Cat’s journey travels to some dark and torturous places.

Sometimes good can only triumph over evil if good is very, very strong. Cat needs to learn about her own strength, so a lot of this story is about just how difficult it is for Cat to find her own place, her own balance, and get out of her own way. Although Cat has always believed that her mother is her worst enemy (and she’s awfully, awfully bad) Cat’s true worst enemy has always been herself, and her unwillingness to put her faith in herself.

So this story is the end of an epic and sometimes heartbreaking journey. It will bring to mind the old saying that “Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad”, although in Cat’s case its more the madness of anger than insanity. That much meddling in one’s life by capricious and omnipotent beings would drive anyone crazy.

But Cat’s crazy has made for a fantastic journey. I’m sorry to see it end – but this was the time. And the way it ends is right and heartbreaking and triumphant all at once. As the series has been, and as it should be.

Reviewer’s Note: Heart on Fire particularly of the series is a story about mothers and daughters, and just how terribly wrong that relationship can go. As I was reading this book, my mother was admitted to hospice, and by the time this is posted she will probably be gone. It made the reading of this book particularly poignant, and also made it difficult as hell to review.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Sourcebooks is giving away a bundle of the first two books in this series, A Promise of Fire and Breath of Fire, to three lucky entrants on this tour.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 12-24-17

Sunday Post

Welcome to the Christmas Eve edition of the Sunday Post! I hope you’ve got all your holiday shopping done!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Twelve Days of Christmas Giveaway Hop (ends TONIGHT!)
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Midwinter’s Eve Giveaway Hop
$50 Amazon Gift Card from Harlequin

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the $10 Gift Card in the Winter is Coming Giveaway Hop is Sarah L.

Blog Recap:

Winter Holiday Traditions Guest Post by Lori Foster + Giveaway
A+ Review: A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne
B+ Review: Once Upon a Maiden Lane & Once Upon a Christmas Eve by Elizabeth Hoyt
Midwinter’s Eve Giveaway Hop
A- Review: The Prisoner of Limnos by Lois McMaster Bujold
Stacking the Shelves (267)

Coming Next Week:

Heart on Fire by Amanda Bouchet (blog tour review)
Best Books of 2017
Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins (blog tour review)
The Duke of Her Desire by Sophie Barnes (blog tour review)

Stacking the Shelves (267)

Stacking the Shelves

As you read this, I’m on my way to Cincinnati. My mother was checked into hospice yesterday. I’m writing this just a bit ahead as we’re planning to get on the road. It probably seems strange that I’m posting this, but reading and blogging both help calm my nerves. Of which I suddenly have a ton.

For Review:
After Hours (Boardroom #2) by Lynda Aicher
Crashed on an Ice World (Phoenix Adventures #11) by Anna Hackett
Giving Chase (Chase Brothers #1) by Lauren Dane
Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

Purchased from Amazon:
Once Upon a Christmas Eve (Maiden Lane #12.6) by Elizabeth Hoyt (review)

Borrowed from the Library:
The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris
Elementary (Elemental Masters #8.5) by Mercedes Lackey
Hunter’s Season (Elder Races #4.7) by Thea Harrison
Kinked (Elder Races #6) by Thea Harrison
Natural Evil (Elder Races #4.5) by Thea Harrison
Reserved for the Cat (Elemental Masters #5) by Mercedes Lackey
Sour Heart by Jenny Zhant
The Wicked (Elder Races #5.5) by Thea Harrison

Review: The Prisoner of Limnos by Lois McMaster Bujold

Review: The Prisoner of Limnos by Lois McMaster BujoldThe Prisoner of Limnos (Penric & Desdemona #6) by Lois McMaster Bujold
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy
Series: Penric and Desdemona #6
Pages: 139
Published by Spectrum Literary Agency on October 26th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

In this sequel novella to “Mira’s Last Dance”, Temple sorcerer Penric and the widow Nikys have reached safety in the duchy of Orbas when a secret letter from a friend brings frightening news: Nikys’s mother has been taken hostage by her brother’s enemies at the Cedonian imperial court, and confined in a precarious island sanctuary.

Their own romance still unresolved, Nikys, Penric, and of course Desdemona must infiltrate the hostile country once more, finding along the way that family relationships can be as unexpectedly challenging as any rescue scheme.

My Review:

There’s a famous cartoon by Sidney Harris of two mathematicians standing at a blackboard. On the blackboard, there’s a complicated formula on the left and more complicated formula on the right. In the middle, there’s the text, “THEN A MIRACLE OCCURS”. The caption is one mathematician telling the other, “I think you should be more explicit here in step two.”

The plan that Penric hatches with Nikys to rescue her mother from political imprisonment is a lot like that cartoon, to the point where the need for the miracle in the middle is called out more than once.

Considering that the place where her mother is being held is a sanctuary devoted to worship of the Daughter, and that Penric is a Learned Divine and a Sorcerer in the service of the fifth god, Lord Bastard, a miracle is entirely possible – if not necessarily a good idea to actually count on.

The Prisoner of Limnos picks up immediately after Mira’s Last Dance leaves off. It is necessary to read the Penric and Desdemona series in at least the publication order, but as this is a series of novellas, and they are all excellent, if you like fantasy, particularly of the slightly epic and continually quirky variety, the series is a marvelous and relatively quick read.

But as this one picks up right after the last book, the issues left unresolved at the end of Mira’s Last Dance are still very much unresolved. That issue being Penric’s courtship of Nikys. It’s not that they don’t love each other, because they do, or at least are getting there. The problem is Penric’s demon, Desdemona, and all of the 14 personalities that reside within her, and therefore him.

Nikys is more than happy to be with Penric, but completely unsure about the horde of females who all live in his head. He’s not crazy. Being the rider for a demon is a condition of becoming a sorcerer. (How Penric and Desdemona ‘met’ is in the first book, Penric’s Demon)

But when Nikys discovers that her mother has been imprisoned as a way to bring her brother back to their former home, a country that wrongly accused him of treason and blinded him in punishment, she turns to Penric. Both because she trusts him implicitly, and because she knows he’s the only one who might be capable of pulling this jailbreak off.

After all, he got her and her brother out of the country once, in not dissimilar circumstances. He should be able to do it again.

With a little bit of help from their friends. And a whole lot of help from the gods.

Escape Rating A-: This is a rescue where everything goes right, everything goes wrong, and a seagull goes ‘poof’.

Penric is always flying by the seat of his pants, even when he’s not wearing pants. His god, the Lord Bastard, is the ‘master of all disasters out of season’. In other words, Penric serves an agent of chaos. When you semi-control, and it’s only ever semi, the chaos, you can often visit it upon your enemies instead of yourself. Not that Penric doesn’t pay for the use of his magic in other ways.

This is a story about politics and romance, wrapped around a sometimes daring and often hilarious rescue. Penric never does anything by halves.

The strength of the series is the relationship between Penric and Desdemona. They are bound together in something closer than kinship, and it’s a lifebond. At least for him. When he dies, Desdemona and everything she has learned from him and all her previous riders will be passed to the next sorcerer, or to the nearest person handy who automatically becomes a sorcerer.

Penric is a fascinating character all by himself. He’s someone who has broken completely away from everything he originally intended to be, and has made himself an interesting and useful life as he is. At the same time, he is very independent of mind and always has a slightly quirky outlook on what he sees.

That the author has managed to make Desdemona a separate character, even though she part of Penric, makes this all work. Desdemona is the ultimate big sister, with a snarky outlook built over centuries of living and multiple riders. At the same time, all of her riders have been female, and she is finding the whole ‘love and courtship’ thing every bit as idiotic from the male perspective as she ever did from the female. And she laughs.

While the rescue is screamingly fun, the heart of the story is Nikys’ resolution of her dilemma about Penric and all his “sisters”. She has to decide if loving the man is worth putting up with all of his baggage, even more than occurs in most marriages. And the way its done is both completely sensible and absolutely lovely.

My only complaint about The Prisoner of Limnos is the same one I have about every novella in this series. It’s a novella, meaning it’s too damn short. I love returning to this world, and I always want MORE!