Grade A #BookReview: Demon Daughter by Lois McMaster Bujold

Grade A #BookReview: Demon Daughter by Lois McMaster BujoldDemon Daughter (Penric and Desdemona #12) by Lois McMaster Bujold
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Penric and Desdemona #12
Pages: 153
Published by Spectrum Literary Agency on January 9, 2024
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

A six-year-old shiplost girl draws the kin Jurald family of Vilnoc into complex dilemmas, and sorcerer Learned Penric and his Temple demon Desdemona into conflict—with each other. It will take all of Penric’s wits, his wife Nikys’s wisdom, and the hand of the fifth god’s strangest saint to untangle the threads of their future.

My Review:

Demon Daughter – not Demon’s Daughter because that would be a different genre altogether – is a delightfully cozy entry in the Penric and Desdemona series.

Not that there isn’t plenty of chaos along the way – because the god that Learned Penric kin Jurald serves as both sorcerer and Divine IS chaos. Or at least the god thereof. Penric serves the Fifth God, the Lord Bastard, the “master of all disasters out of season”. His god is also called the “White God” which, now that I’m thinking about it, makes him a sort of kin to the “White Rat” god in T. Kingfisher’s Saint of Steel series. Which actually works if you think about it a bit.

I digress.

For a series consisting entirely of novellas, Penric and Desdemona’s adventures are not only compelling, but they always leave me thinking more than expected. Because this is a world where the gods absolutely are manifest in people’s lives – not just by faith, but by having real influence on and actions in the world. (Also they explicitly come to their own people’s funerals, sometimes even in person, to take them ‘home’.)

Penric has spoken directly with his god, not just in the sense of prayers and imprecations, but as a real conversation. Although usually when his god is talking to him it means that Penric’s life is about to have more than the usual amount of chaos thrown into it. Again.

Which is exactly what happens in Demon Daughter, in a roundabout sort of way. The chaos at least.

A little girl aboard her father’s ship pets a literal white rat (see, that connection isn’t quite so obscure after all) and starts setting things on fire. Aboard a wooden ship, that’s a recipe for death, disaster and oh yes and very much, chaos.

In a contest between little Otta and the entire crew of the merchant vessel, well, there’s not even a contest – even though the ship’s owner and captain is her own father. Otta gets thrown overboard while the crew sets to work putting out the fires, plural, lest they all end up joining her in the drink.

She washes ashore not far from Penric’s home in Vilnoc, gets scared, sets off more fires, and this time gets put in the bottom of a dry well while the local priest calls for somebody, anybody, from the Bastard’s Order to deal with this mess – because it most definitely is the Bastard’s business. Which gets Penric, his wife Nikys, and his demon Desdemona setting out for the tiny coastal village.

They take the little girl home and into their hearts. All of their hearts, including the demon Desdemona’s – in spite of Desdemona not having an actual heart or even a body of her own. Which becomes the real conflict within Penric.

His family wants to adopt the little girl as their own. Desdemona wants to adopt the little girl’s little demon as her own. But Penric answers to the White God, and he may have other plans, that may very well hinge on which choice adds the most chaos to Penric’s already chaotic life.

Escape Rating A: This twelfth entry in the Penric and Desdemona series could almost be classed as a ‘cozy fantasy’. Even with all the chaos naturally generated by Penric’s service to the Lord Bastard, this particular story is very home-oriented and relationship-centric in a way that is just warm and, well, cozy, because Penric’s household is both of those things – even in the depths of winter while he’s teaching a young girl and her even younger demon the art of NOT setting everything on fire.

Which turns out to be all about making sure Otta is not anxious and afraid – not the easiest things to do for a child who has been literally thrown away from her home and family, is scared out of her wits that she might have accidentally killed everyone she loves, and is forced to deal with concepts and responsibilities that are well beyond her years.

Otta is an accidental sorceress, just as Penric became an equally accidental sorcerer twenty years ago, a story told in Penric’s Demon. But Penric was an adult, maybe just barely, but old enough to attend Seminary and learn the ropes of being a Temple Sorcerer and Learned Divine and all that went with it. AND more importantly, having enough experience to truly understand what he was learning. Most of it anyway.

His demon, Desdemona, was centuries old, very experienced, and was as much his teacher as any of his more corporeal tutors.

Otta is just six, her demon’s very first manifestation was that little white rat, and it only received a few days of experience at most. It can’t teach her and she can’t teach it – but Penric and Desdemona are perfect for that job. Jobs.

But Otta is just a little girl, just as Atto, her demon, is just a very little demon. It is Penric’s duty to train Otta enough that she stops setting fires. But she becomes part of the family, which is where all the conflicts and all the thoughts that raced through my head came in.

How does a small child cope when adult responsibilities are thrust upon them? More importantly, how does anyone cope when all of their teaching and training up to that point has indoctrinated them into believing that they have become an abomination – because the thing they are is something they have been taught doesn’t exist and should absolutely not be believed in?

Those are big questions, questions that little Otta has to wrestle with in a way that Penric never did. (His people did believe in the Fifth God, even if none of them ever expected to serve him directly. Otta’s people absolutely did NOT.) Those big questions and indoctrinated beliefs lead to choices that Otta and only Otta can make – all Penric and Desdemona can do is give them a strong foundation on which to stand while they make that choice.

It’s those questions that stick in my mind after finishing Demon Daughter. Because there are entirely too many people in the real world who face that dilemma every day while trying to live their truth even though they’ve been taught by family, faith and community that their truth is a lie.

In Otta’s case it’s easy to see the solution – even as we feel how difficult it is for a little girl to turn away from everything she’s known and form a new path for herself and the little demon she has become responsible for. In the real world, it’s not nearly so easy, both because Otta has a good, firm support network in Penric, Desdemona, and their family, and because the reality of her god is, well, real in a way that can erase many doubts. But her being forced to decide whether to break with her birth family or give up the thing that makes her whole breaks my heart even more than Otta’s decision nearly broke Penric’s, Desdemona’s, and even Otta’s own.

Now that Otta has become part of Penric’s household, it will be fun to see how his and Des’ training of the little sorcerette (Otta is much too little to be even an apprentice sorceress – yet) works its way into the next bit of chaos that the Lord Bastard sends their way. I’m already looking forward to reading those adventures, whenever the chaos surrounding their deity allows them to appear!