Review: Masquerade in Lodi by Lois McMaster Bujold

Review: Masquerade in Lodi by Lois McMaster BujoldMasquerade in Lodi (Penric and Desdemona #4) by Lois McMaster Bujold
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Penric and Desdemona #4
Pages: 103
Published by Spectrum Literary Agency on October 14th 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

Bastard’s Eve is a night of celebration for most residents in the canal city of Lodi -- but not for sorcerer Learned Penric and his Temple demon Desdemona, who find themselves caught up in the affairs of a shiplost madman, a dangerous ascendant demon, and a very unexpected saint of the fifth god.
This novella falls between “Penric’s Fox” and “Penric’s Mission” in the internal chronology of the Penric & Desdemona tales.

My Review:

Penric, whose adventures have featured in this novella series since its beginning in Penric’s Demon, is a fascinating character. Or perhaps that should be characters. And that is part of the fascination.

Because Penric was knocked sideways out of the life he planned to lead by the advent of Desdemona in his life, and there his adventures definitely began.

That sounds like a romance, doesn’t it? But that’s not what this is. Not at all. Not that Penric doesn’t have his own romantic adventures, and not that Desdemona didn’t have hers. Two centuries worth of them.

In the World of the Five Gods, those five gods are not just worshipped. They are real, can appear before their followers, and can act directly upon the world. But mostly they act indirectly, through their priests, their learned divines, of which Penric is one, and their god- or goddess- touched Saints, one of whom is featured in this entry in the series.

Those gods are the Mother, the Father, the Sister, the Brother and the fifth god whom Penric serves, the “master of all disasters out of season”.

Penric is a Learned Divine of the White God, the Lord Bastard. Desdemona is the demon who shares Penric’s head. They are partners. He provides the physical body which allows her to move in the world, and she gives him magic. And the benefit of her two centuries of experience – sometimes whether he wants it or not. From Penric’s perspective it’s often like have a dozen older sisters and aunts giving him advice whether he’s asked for it or not. Generally not.

The series began when Desdemona jumped from her previous host, the dying Learned Divine Ruschia, to young Penric, knocking his life into another channel from the one he was expected to have as the younger son of a prosperous landowner.

He also expected to be bored out of his skull, but life with Desdemona inside his skull has been anything but boring. Often dangerous, occasionally life-threatening, but never, ever dull.

In Masquerade in Lodi, Penric is definitely not bored. Tired, footsore, terrified and manipulated, occasionally all at the same time, but never, ever bored.

Even if the story begins by his thwarted attempt to take a half-day off in preparation for the local festival in honor of his god. But then, the Lord Bastard is the god of misfortune and bad luck, along with prostitutes, executioners and vermin.

And Penric runs into pretty much all of the above as he attempts to squire a very young Saint of his order along on a mission to find a demon-touched man who may or may not be either a murderer or a potential victim. Or both.

Whether he is saint or villain, the young man’s mother is still expecting him to come home. It’s up to Penric, with the help and sometimes hindrance of the saint, to make it happen.

Escape Rating B+: The beginning of Masquerade in Lodi may be a bit confusing for faithful readers of this series. The book published immediately before this one, The Physicians of Vilnoc, takes place several years and a whole lot of life and adventures after Masquerade in Lodi. Some fairly dangerous and rather significant adventures, including Penric’s marriage.

Those events are still in Penric’s future in Lodi, and it takes a bit of a reset to get one’s reading self back on track. A worthwhile mental adjustment, but definitely an adjustment. The book whose events immediately precede this one is Penric’s Fox, and that was several books ago.

On my oft-cited other hand, one of the things that this entry in the series does very well, is to not just tell its adventure but also to show and not tell a whole lot more about how the system works.

By that I mean the system of gods, temples, demons, saints and worship. Because this religion functions for the actual good of its people, which is rare in fantasy. Usually the “church” is a source of evil or oppression or corruption or villainy or all of the above. Not in the World of the Five Gods.

So when Penric is called to the dockside mission to investigate the case of a man who might be demon-touched or might merely be out of his own head, it’s normal and accepted and expected. When Penric discovers that the poor man is harboring an untamed demon, there are no torches and pitchforks. No signs of the “evil eye”.

Instead, there’s a process in place for Penric to take the poor man to a Saint of the White God to have the demon taken by the Lord Bastard. A process which the victim will survive.

Except, it’s not nearly that simple. Otherwise there wouldn’t be an adventure. But in the discussion between Penric, his demon Desdemona, all of the Temple officials who become part of the merry chase of the escaped victim, the young Saint who is occasionally god-touched but always way more observant and intelligent than anyone expects, we learn a wondrous amount of stuff about this world, how it works, and both Penric’s and his god’s place in it.

And we get a tour of friends and enemies in low places, because nothing about the victim, the demon, or the reason they met in the first place is remotely as it seems.

Discovering how everyone got to be in this pickle in the first place is all the fun.

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