Review: The Assassins of Thasalon by Lois McMaster Bujold

Review: The Assassins of Thasalon by Lois McMaster BujoldThe Assassins of Thasalon (Penric and Desdemona #10) by Lois McMaster Bujold
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Penric and Desdemona #10
Pages: 244
Published by Spectrum Literary Agency on May 10th 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & Noble

An unholy attack upon his brother-in-law General Arisaydia pitches sorcerer Learned Penric and his Temple demon Desdemona headlong into the snake-pit of Cedonian imperial politics. But they will not travel alone. The mission from his god brings Penric some of his strangest new allies yet, and the return of some of his most valued old ones.

This novel-length story takes place two years after the events of “The Physicians of Vilnoc”.

My Review:

Reading The Assassins of Thasalon, I’m reminded that the full title for this series probably ought to be “Scenes from the Life of Penric and Desdemona,” rather than just Penric and Desdemona.” The series is absolutely about Learned Penric and his demon Desdemona, but it’s not told in order from beginning to end – long may THAT evil day get delayed.

And not that it didn’t begin at the begin in the first book in the series (in both publication order AND internal chronological order!) Penric’s Demon. It’s just that the books after that terrific beginning have been all over the map as far as Penric’s life with Desdemona is concerned. But , while this book is the 10th in both publication and chronological order, the book before it in chronological order, The Physicians of Vilnoc, was the 8th book in publication order, while Masquerade in Lodi, the 9th book in publication order, was actually the 4th book in chronological order.

Confused? So am I, a bit. Although I was more confused by Masquerade in Lodi because it took place so much earlier in Penric’s life.

But the mixing up of internal chronology vs. publication does mean that a reader can pick this series up in pretty much any order after the first book and slide right in. That there are now enough books to make the entire series into a lovely little binge read is icing on that particular cake.

I’m digressing, a bit, but then this series does lead into digression, every bit as much as Penric’s and Desdemona’s internal dialog, along with both of their curious natures and scholarly bents, leads them into frequent digressions and down innumerable intellectual rabbit holes at pretty much every turn.

If you’ve not had the pleasure of traveling with Penric and Desdemona, you might be thinking that they are spouses or lovers but their relationship is both more intimate and less physical than that,

Penric is a Learned Divine of the Fifth God of his world’s pantheon. The god he serves is the Lord Bastard, the “master of all disasters out of season”. In other words, Penric serves this world’s chaos avatar, their version of Loki, or Coyote.

Desdemona is, as the title of that first book implies, Penric’s Demon. She is a chaos spirit who grows in power the longer she remains in the world, attached to an animal or a human. She changes partners when her current host dies, but she retains the memories of her long “life” and all of her previous hosts, which in turn she uses to both teach and assist Penric.

I call Desdemona she, and Penric refers to her as female not because demons have gender per se but because all of Desdemona’s previous hosts have been female – including the animals who were her first hosts. Over the centuries of her existence, Desdemona has come to think of herself as female so Penric does as well. It’s like having an entire host of older sisters living inside his head.

And Penric is going to need every single bit of pretty much everything that he and Desdemona have between them in order to fix everything that is going wrong in the neighboring country of Cedonia before the sixth set of assassins finally succeeds in murdering Pen’s brother-in-law.

It is particularly important that Pen and his rather assorted party reach Thasalon, the capital of Cedonia, and fix what’s gone wrong before said brother-in-law arrives. Because if Pen can’t fix things his way, Adelis will have to take matters into his own hands – with a conquering army at his back.

Escape Rating A: I’ve enjoyed this entire series so far, but like any series that’s 10 books in, some have been merely good – not that THAT isn’t an achievement in and of itself – while others have been great. The Assassins of Thasalon is one of the great ones in the series.

What I loved about this one so much is the way that it mixes theology and politics, rather to the detriment of both the country and many of the characters. It’s also kind of a “fix-it” fic, and I always love those.

It’s been clear since Penric met Nikys and her brother Arisedya back in the third book in the series, Penric’s Mission, that there was something seriously rotten in the state of Cedonia. Five years after Nikys and Adelis fled their homeland to the neighboring country of Orbas for shelter, it’s apparently time to fix at least the worst of what’s wrong.

Penric’s god, the Lord Bastard, makes it clear to Penric that it is his duty to fix things in Cedonia. Because it’s not just dirty politics that they all thought it was at the beginning. Dirty politics may amuse the White God, but they are not his domain. Howsomever, someone in the Bastard’s service has been misusing the gifts that his god gave him, and the Bastard has just ordered Penric to be his hands and work his will upon the whole sorry lot of them.

They may not be sorry yet, but someone is certainly going to be. Hopefully not Penric.

While Penric has his orders, what he doesn’t have is much in the way of instructions. And that’s where the politics come in. And that’s a big part of what I loved about this story.

Adelis is returning home to either serve the country, save the country, conquer the country or all of the above, depending on what he finds when he gets there. And finally marry his betrothed, who has been waiting for him – and plotting and scheming in the BEST style – while she waits.

So there are assassinations, and political skullduggery, threats of invasion and bits of romance wrapped around this story of a world where the gods are REAL and where one god in particular is about to take back his gifts with extreme prejudice.

It’s all in a day’s – or month’s – work for Penric and Desdemona. And it’s a blast – sometimes literally – every step of the way.