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.

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

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.

Review: The Physicians of Vilnoc by Lois McMaster Bujold

Review: The Physicians of Vilnoc by Lois McMaster BujoldThe Physicians of Vilnoc (Penric and Desdemona #9) by Lois McMaster Bujold by Lois McMaster Bujold
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Penric and Desdemona #9, World of the Five Gods #3.8
Pages: 127
Published by Spectrum Literary Agency on May 7th 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & Noble

When a mysterious plague breaks out in the army fort guarding Vilnoc, the port capital of the duchy of Orbas, Temple sorcerer Penric and his demon Desdemona are called upon by General Arisaydia to resurrect Penric’s medical skills and solve its lethal riddle. In the grueling days that follow, Pen will find that even his magic is not enough to meet the challenges without help from dedicated new colleagues—and the god of mischance.

“The Physicians of Vilnoc” follows about a year after the events of “The Orphans of Raspay”

My Review:

I have been haunting Amazon waiting for this book to finally be available for preorder. I didn’t expect it to just become available, period, but it did. And I couldn’t resist diving into it immediately!

Also, the book I was reading – which is awesome and will be up later this week – I already know that it does not exactly have a happy ending. And while this one is about the progress of a contagious disease and has lots of not exactly happy bits in it – nor should it considering the topic – it’s part of an ongoing series and I could be pretty certain that the characters I’ve been following for 8 books now were going to live to get into yet more adventures another day.

The Physicians of Vilnoc is a story that feels like it is speaking directly to the current real-world crisis while still reading like it grew organically out of its setting and its characters. That’s a feat that speculative fiction, both Fantasy like this series as well as SF, are able to do when they are at their best.

This is a story from a Grand Master of the field, in a Hugo-award winning series. As expected, it does an excellent job of both telling its own particular story AND providing insight into the world its readers are living through. Even if you don’t want to see the real-world applications, it’s a damn good story.

And if you do, it’s even better.

Vilnoc is the place where Penric, his demon Desdemona, his wife Niklys and her brother General Arisaydia have come to rest and settled in after their journeys so far in this novella series. (Start with Penric’s Demon and settle in for a wonderful but not overly long ride.)

As the story opens, Penric is explicitly NOT one of the physicians of Vilnoc or anywhere else. He’s capable of being one, he’s even done it before. And that’s precisely why he doesn’t do it now. He literally does not know when to quit. The last time he tried practicing medicine, it was in the midst of a deadly epidemic and he used himself up to the point where he felt like the only way to escape all of the death that surrounded him and that he couldn’t seem to stop was to kill himself.

So he’s beyond reluctant when Arisaydia, now the local garrison commander, shows up at his door asking him to come back to the garrison and pick up his medical practice. In yet another life-threatening crisis.

A disease is going around the barracks, and it’s not any of the many, many usual things that go around. The garrison’s chief medic is overwhelmed and dying himself of this unidentified disease that absolutely no one wants to label as a plague. Even though it is.

And Penric, who never knows when to quit and can’t refuse his brother-in-law any aid that he has within his power to grant, rides off into hell.

He can’t come home until he’s certain that he has figured out what the disease is and eradicates it. He can’t bring an unknown contagion back to his wife and his infant daughter.

He doesn’t recognize the disease, and neither does Desdemona. He has little help and no time to spare. He’s fighting a losing battle with no idea of who, or what, makes up the opposition forces.

But he has to try. And he has to succeed before it overwhelms that little town that holds his family.

Escape Rating A: I love this series, and have from the very first book, Penric’s Demon, in 2015. It was a beautiful and completely unexpected revisit to the world of the author’s Chalion series, which I also loved. But Penric’s adventures are terrific as well as set on a much smaller scale than the usual doorstop size of an epic fantasy. Each is a gem, but they are better read in order. Luckily it is not necessary to go back to the original series, not that it isn’t lovely in its own right. But Penric’s story feels like it introduces the world enough to get new readers going, and it builds marvelously as it goes along.

Desdemona is the demon who lives within, or rides, Penric. She’s not a demon in the theological sense, she’s more akin to a Trill symbiont from Star Trek. Only not quite as old, I think, as Dax.

But two of Desdemona’s previous riders were physicians, as was Penric himself before he burned out. Which doesn’t stop him from answering the call yet again. And it’s his work as a physician in this story that provides its heart as well as its resonance for 21st century readers.

Because the contagion that Penric has been called in to identify and treat – although not necessarily in that order – is a medical mystery. As Penric begins walking, then wading and eventually nearly sleepwalking through endless rounds of healing an ever-increasing and ever-spreading number of patients, he knows neither what the disease it nor how it is spread. It is all that he can do to keep treating the sick.

He’s isolated and alone. Scared that what he is doing will not be enough. Desperate to find a cure – or even just to figure out how it is transmitted so that some prevention can be undertaken. And it’s difficult not to see parallels between the current situation in hospitals and the self-quarantining of first responders and Penric’s desperate situation.

On the one hand, once Penric does figure out where the disease is coming from the solution is easy albeit not painless. Whereas we are in the situation where we now how the disease is transmitted and we can enact containment strategies – we just don’t know how to stop it in its tracks.

But in Penric’s search for answers, it’s easy to see just how difficult the task is, both for him and for us. Penric does get his “eureka” moment, he does figure out both the questions and the answers. There is a happy ending for him and the other characters we’ve come to follow and care for – but there was a cost and it was not a small one. Lives matter.

So, for readers that want to see our present in this fantasy world, that interpretation can make this story richer and more meaningful. But if you’re just in it for a cracking good story and a fascinating medical mystery, that’s there as well.

I’m always happy to ride along on Penric’s latest adventure.

Before I finish this review, I have one final bit of wisdom from a 200 year old demon to share with you. It’s something that is just as valid in our current crisis, or even just in everyday life, as it is during the crisis that Penric is contending with, “Don’t borrow trouble. The interest rate is much too high.”

Review: The Orphans of Raspay by Lois McMaster Bujold

Review: The Orphans of Raspay by Lois McMaster BujoldThe Orphans of Raspay (Penric and Desdemona, #8) by Lois McMaster Bujold
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: fantasy
Series: Penric and Desdemona #8, World of the Five Gods #3.7
Pages: 224
Published by Spectrum Literary Agency, Subterranean Press on July 17th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

When the ship in which they are traveling is captured by Carpagamon island raiders, Temple sorcerer Penric and his resident demon Desdemona find their life complicated by two young orphans, Lencia and Seuka Corva, far from home and searching for their missing father. Pen and Des will need all their combined talents of mind and magic to unravel the mysteries of the sisters and escape from the pirate stronghold.

This novella follows about a year after the events of “The Prisoner of Limnos”.

My Review:

There’s ransom – and then there’s anti-ransom paid to make sure that Penric, Learned Divine of the White God, goes away and stays away.

That’s a tiny piece of the end of the story. In the beginning, there’s chaos. In the middle, too. But then again, there’s always chaos in Penric’s life, and has been since the day that he stopped to help a dying woman by the side of the road, and ended up gifted with her demon and her calling.

(That story is in Penric’s Demon, and it, just like all the stories in this series, is a delight.)

Because Penric’s god is the Lord Bastard, the “master of all disasters out of season” Penric himself is something of a chaos magnet. Wherever he goes, trouble happens. Usually to him, but eventually to everyone around him, while he emerges, if not unscathed, at least less damaged than whoever or whatever tried to get in his – and his master’s – way.

Penric serves as a bit of a secret agent for both the Duke of Orbas, where he lives when he’s not out running semi-secret errands as well as the Bishop of Orbas, who often sends Penric out on equally dangerous missions. He’s on his way home from one of those missions when the ship he is travelling on is blown off course in a storm, only to survive the storm and get captured by pirates.

That’s where Penric’s “adventure” really begins. Like most of Penric’s adventures, it’s the sort of thing where he’d like it to be a tale told by someone else while he sits beside his wife, safe at home. Or something he’d like to long be over, so that he can look back on it much more fondly than the experience warrants as it’s happening.

Instead, Penric leaps out of the frying pan into the fire – or at least there would be a fire if he weren’t locked in the hold of a ship in the middle of the ocean. And there certainly will be a fire as soon as he reaches dry land – or something equally chaotic and destructive.

After all, he owes those pirates a good comeuppance – even if they quite literally drop him into the mission that the Lord Bastard intends for him to accomplish.

Penric is there to rescue two little girls from slavery – along with himself. Her mother seems to have made a deal with his god, and it’s up to him to carry out his Lord’s side of the bargain.

If he can manage to wreak chaos on the entire slaving operation while he’s there – so much the better. Both his god and his demon ADORE chaos.

Escape Rating A: This series has been a comfort read for me, and right now we all need more comfort reading than usual, so here we are. I have kind of a hit-or-miss relationship with this author’s classic, famous space-opera Vorkosigan series, but I adored the World of the Five Gods series (begin with The Curse of Chalion) and was sorry to see it end. Then it un-ended with Penric’s Demon, which is set in the same world but doesn’t feature any of the original characters. Penric is definitely a character onto himself. And I don’t think you have to have read the “big” series to get into Penric if you start from his beginning in Penric’s Demon. (The series won the very first Hugo Award for Best Series in 2018!)

So I’m all in for this novella series. They are all novellas, so relatively short reads, always complete in themselves but with a “hook” to the wider Penric series. And lovely little bits of storytelling they are.

The success of the series rides – pun intended – on two characters, Learned Penric and his demon Desdemona. I’m not sure the possessive is in the right direction, much like the question about whether we own the cats or the cats own us.

Desdemona is kind of like a Trill symbiont from Star Trek. She’s the demon, she provides Penric with his magic. But she also contains the memories of every person that she has ever inhabited, and Penric has access to all those memories. He may be in charge, but Desdemona is a separate individual who has her own thoughts and her own relationships with the people around them. Lucky for Penric, Desdemona and his wife Niklys get along quite well. If they didn’t, he’d be the chew toy caught in the middle – although probably not for long.

Penric’s adventures often have a “Perils of Pauline” aspect, the out of the frying pan into the fire element of so many of those old melodrama serials. The difference is that in Penric’s case, he’s often the one providing the fire, as that’s one of the many gifts of his demon, and sometimes, as in this particular story, a place just needs a really good cleansing – with fire.

That’s certainly the case here, as Penric is caught in multiple dilemmas. He has to rescue himself and the two girls. He needs to figure out exactly what his responsibility is to those two girls. Not that he isn’t willing to save them, but if it’s a mission for his god he has different options than if he’s just doing a good deed. And there are WAY too many coincidences in their meeting for it to just be a good deed.

At the same time, he, and we, are morally outraged by the economy of the pirates haven and the slaving business that keeps it going. Not just the pirates themselves, but the entire network of middlemen and buyers who make the whole thing so incredibly lucrative – and so distributed that they are hard to eliminate in their entirety – no matter how much Penric wants to.

In spite of the terrible situation, the story itself has a gigantic element of fun to it. Penric causes chaos but he also experiences it fairly often. His plans to get himself and the girls off the island and on their way home backfires on him multiple times. People just won’t do the sensible thing when he’s involved. Seemingly ever.

So he tries and fails regularly, although he tends to fail upwards, making a bit of progress each time. We hold our breath with him as he attempts yet another escape, and worry with him that he’s not going to get the girls to safety. Or that he’ll end up dead. Or both.

In the end, the cavalry quite literally comes over the hill – or at least over the horizon, and Penric lives to cause chaos another day. A day that I can’t wait to read about!

Reviewer’s Note: This book is currently available in ebook published by Spectrum Literary Agency. The print version will be published in June by Subterranean Press with a new cover.

Review: The Prisoner of Limnos by Lois McMaster Bujold

Review: The Prisoner of Limnos by Lois McMaster BujoldThe Prisoner of Limnos (Penric & Desdemona #6) Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Series: Penric and Desdemona #6
Pages: 139
on October 26th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo

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!

Review: Penric’s Fox by Lois McMaster Bujold

Review: Penric’s Fox by Lois McMaster BujoldPenric's Fox Formats available: ebook
Series: Penric and Desdemona #3
Pages: 113
on August 7th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & Noble

"Penric's Fox": a Penric & Desdemona novella in the World of the Five Gods. Book 3.

Some eight months after the events of “Penric and the Shaman”, Learned Penric, sorcerer and scholar, travels to Easthome, the capital of the Weald. There he again meets his friends Shaman Inglis and Locator Oswyl. When the body of a sorceress is found in the woods, Oswyl draws him into another investigation; they must all work together to uncover a mystery mixing magic, murder and the strange realities of Temple demons.

My Review:

When I saw the announcement earlier this week that there was a new Penric and Desdemona novella, I immediately ran (figuratively, of course) to Amazon to buy a copy, and dropped everything to read it immediately. This series of novellas, set in Lois McMaster Bujold’s World of the Five Gods, are absolutely marvelous treats, every single one. And Penric’s Fox is no exception.

Penric’s Fox, while being the fifth book in the series in publication order, is actually the third book in the series’ internal chronology, taking place, as the blurb says, about eight months after the events in Penric and the Shaman. And it feels like it takes place a few years before the events of Penric’s Mission.

If the above paragraph is a bit confusing, there’s a surefire way to resolve your confusion. Read the series from its marvelous beginning in Penric’s Demon, our first introduction to Penric, his demon Desdemona, and a terrific introduction or re-introduction as the case might be, to the World of the Five Gods.

Penric, with Desdemona’s cooperation and assistance (and occasional snark from the sidelines) becomes a Learned Divine of the White God, Lord Bastard, the “Master of all disasters out of season”. As the series progresses we see Penric, who is a very young man at the beginning of his tale in Penric’s Demon, grow into the change in his fortunes and the unexpected role that has been thrust upon him.

While each of his adventures is a bit different, in this particular story Penric finds himself in the midst of a murder investigation. And for once, in spite of his somewhat infamous bad luck, he is the investigator and not the suspected perpetrator. Although, again because of his infamous bad luck, he very nearly becomes one of the victims.

Penric and his friend, the shaman Inglis, are called to the scene of a murder, as is their friend Oswyl, one of the local investigators. This case needs all of them. The woman who was definitely murdered by the two arrows in her back, was, like Penric, a Learned Divine of the Lord Bastard. So not only is she dead, but her demon is either dispersed, meaning equally dead, or missing, having jumped into the nearest available host, quite possibly but hopefully not the killer.

The demons in this universe carry the accumulated wisdom of all their previous hosts, somewhat like the Trill symbionts in Star Trek. The demons death would be a great loss, equal in many ways to the murder of the human host, and just as tragic.

Inglis the shaman turns out to be necessary to the puzzle because the evidence eventually begins to suggest that the demon jumped into the body of a vixen fox, which may have driven both the demon and the fox more than a bit mad. And of course the local investigator is there to figure out who shot the arrows, murdered the woman, and why.

It’s a tangle, that only gets more tangled as the three investigate. What was the motive for the murder? Learned Divines have no property, and the woman’s jewelry and purse were still on her person. She might have been murdered in the hopes that her demon would jump to her killer, but not when death is delivered from that great a distance. Or the killer may have been after the demon’s death, and the woman was just collateral damage.

Finding out just who, just why, and just how, will take the combined skills and talents of everyone involved – whatever their powers and whoever their protectors.

Escape Rating A-: This is a quick and absolutely marvelous read. The only thing keeping this one from being an A instead of an A- is that it does require previous knowledge of the series. Also, while it is complete within itself, I just plain want more. So there.

There’s a part of me that wants to simply squee at this point, but that’s not terribly useful to anyone else.

One of the things I love about this series, and this is a bit meta, is that the author has created a religious system that is both well thought out and actually seems to work. Religion is usually glossed over in SF and Fantasy, and mostly seems to either incorporate or bash real-world religions and their adherents. The Five Gods in the World of the Five Gods are not myths, they really do real things in this world. It’s a theology that actually functions. And it’s different in some really neat ways, starting from the personification of the Lord Bastard himself.

But the things that make this series work so very well are the characters of Penric and Desdemona themselves. Penric’s perspective is always interesting, frequently humorous, and occasionally more than a bit ass-backward. He’s often the fool who rushes in where those angels fear to tread, but at the same time, he cares so much and tries so hard. Desdemona, in spite of not having a body of her own, truly is a separate character. She acts as a combination of big sister, mother hen, conscience and confessor, in equal portions. Instead of treating the idea of a female demon in a man’s body as a joke, which could have happened and would have spoiled everything, they are truly partners, and it’s wonderful.

It is not necessary to have read the Chalion books, from which the World of the Five Gods derives, to enjoy Penric. If you’ve ever wanted to dip your toes into epic fantasy, or see if the wonderful worlds of Lois McMaster Bujold are your cup of tea, Penric is a great place to start.

Review: Mira’s Last Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold + Giveaway

Review: Mira’s Last Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold + GiveawayMira's Last Dance (Penric and Desdemona #6) Formats available: ebook
Series: Penric and Desdemona #6
Pages: 87
on February 28th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & Noble

In this sequel to the novella “Penric’s Mission”, the injured Penric, a Temple sorcerer and learned divine, tries to guide the betrayed General Arisaydia and his widowed sister Nikys across the last hundred miles of hostile Cedonia to safety in the Duchy of Orbas. In the town of Sosie the fugitive party encounters unexpected delays, and even more unexpected opportunities and hazards, as the courtesan Mira of Adria, one of the ten dead women whose imprints make up the personality of the chaos demon Desdemona, comes to the fore with her own special expertise.

My Review:

Mira’s last dance is very nearly Penric’s undoing, and not in any of the ways that the reader, Penric, or his current companions might have originally thought.

Penric, as introduced in Penric’s Demon, is a Learned Divine of the Bastard’s Order. Lord Bastard is the “master of all disasters out of season” and one of the five gods who are worshiped in this world. While the Father, the Son, the Mother, the Daughter and the Bastard may be deities, do not mistake them for either theoretical or hands off types. They are real in this world, they can manifest to their worshipers (and sometimes to their doubters) and they perform real acts in and on the world.

Penric started on the road to becoming the man he is now by the agency of one of those unexpected disasters. One day on the road, ten years ago, he encountered a dying old woman far from any other assistance. When the old woman died, Penric was the only one around. And he found himself the host to Learned Ruchia’s chaos demon, making him suddenly both a Divine of the Lord Bastard, and a practicing sorcerer who needed a lot of practice.

His life has never been the same, but it certainly has been an adventure. Penric’s current circumstances are no different.

Mira’s Last Dance (the book) takes up immediately where Penric’s Mission, thoroughly off the rails, left off. Penric, along with the exiled General Adelis and Adelis’ widowed sister Nikys, are on their way from Cedonia to the neighboring country of Orban. They rightfully fear that agents of Cedonia are hot on their trail.

Penric’s original mission to whisk Adelis away from Cedonia to Adria has gone completely bust. Penric, his patron and Adelis were all in the midst of someone else’s machinations, and not to their benefit.

And poor Penric has fallen in love with Nikys. Nikys is caught in the middle between finally doing something that she wants to do, and continuing to do her duty by following and caring for, Adelis. Penric thinks he’s still trying to convince at least Nikys if not Adelis to change course for Adria. Mostly he’s trying to convince himself.

In the middle of all this mess the very motley trio is forced to go to ground in the small town of Sosie. Even more unfortunately, the only place that Penric can convince to take them in is a whorehouse with a very bad case of lice.

That’s where Mira comes in. And Desdemona. Desdemona is Penric’s chaos demon. Up until Penric, all of Desdemona’s 12 hosts have been female, although the lioness and mare don’t contribute much to Penric and Desdemona’s internal, and often heated, discussions. But one of those 10 women was Mira, a famous courtesan over a century ago. And when Penric needs to disguise all of them to get them out of town, it’s Mira the courtesan who comes to his rescue.

Leading him right into the arms of the general of the local military garrison, who can’t take no for an answer. And Nikys can’t decide whether she can live with what Penric has done to captivate the general – whatever that might be.

Penric may be in love with Nikys, and Nikys may be in love with Penric, but she just isn’t sure can live with him and all 12 of the voices in his head – or the things they drive him to do.

Escape Rating A-: My one complaint about this series is that each of the stories is just too short. I’m always left wanting more, and knowing it will be months before I get any.

As much as I enjoy Penric as a character, and I do very much, part of the fascination with this series is the number of very interesting issues that it manages to scoop up as it goes. This series is one of the very few in fantasy that deals with its internal theology without being preachy or judgmental. And while being very entertaining and still exploring complex questions of morality. Again, without being preachy in the slightest.

This particular entry in the series also delves a bit into both gender identity and people’s perceptions of it. Penric is, without a doubt, a cisgender (as we would term it today), heterosexual male. But the 10 discernible voices in his head, his demon, are or were all female. When he needs to play the part of the female courtesan, he lets them not just help him, but take over and direct his actions. Not because he can’t bear to play the woman, but because he just doesn’t know how.

We never do discover exactly how he kept that general entertained, and it doesn’t matter. What matters is everyone else’s reactions to Penric’s actions. And while Adelis feels the expected shudders at Penric’s expertise in pretending to be a woman, it’s Nikys reactions that matter to the story. And those reactions are quite interestingly nuanced.

Because the novellas in this series are short, it is easy to read them from the beginning. It’s also necessary, as the stories layer on top of one another, making the world, and Penric’s perspective of it, more complex as it goes.

Also, unlike the first two books in this series, Penric’s Demon and Penric and the Shaman, the story in Mira’s Last Dance as well as Penric’s Mission which immediately preceded it, are not complete in themselves. Mira’s Last Dance comes to a reasonable break, but it doesn’t really feel like an ending. The action has paused, but there is so obviously more to come. I hope it comes soon.

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

For the final day of my Blogo-Birthday week, I am giving away a copy of the complete (so far) Penric and Desdemona series to one lucky commenter. This series is ebook only, so the prize will come from either Amazon, or B&N. I have followers all over, so if you have a way to accept an ebook gift from one of those etailers, you are welcome to enter. And thank you for celebrating my Blogo-Birthday with me!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Penric’s Mission by Lois McMaster Bujold

Review: Penric’s Mission by Lois McMaster BujoldPenric's Mission (Penric and Desdemona #5) Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Series: Penric and Desdemona #5
Pages: 145
on November 2nd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

In his thirtieth year, Penric fell in love with light…

Learned Penric, a sorcerer and divine of the Bastard’s Order, travels across the sea to sunlit Cedonia on his first covert diplomatic mission, to attempt to secure the services of a disaffected Cedonian general for the Duke of Adria. However, nothing is as it seems: Penric is betrayed and thrown into a dungeon, and worse follows for the general and his kin. Penric’s narrow escapes and adventures — including his interest in a young widow — are told with Bujold’s remarkable energy, wit and humor. Once again, Bujold has created unforgettable characters and a wondrous, often dangerous world of intrigue and sorcery.

My Review:

This third novella in Bujold’s Penric and Desdemona series, itself a spinoff of her World of the Five Gods series (A.K.A. Chalion) is just as much fun as the first two books, Penric’s Demon and Penric and the Shaman. If you are looking for a a deft fantasy that comes in a smaller than a doorstop package, Penric is a fascinating hero and this series is terrific.

Penric is actually Learned Penric, a sorcerer and divine of the Lord Bastard, the “master of all disasters out of season. And Penric’s mission in this story, and quite often his life in general, seems to consist of one unexpected disaster after another. It makes for a very wild and entertaining ride.

Penric thinks that he’s on a mission to discover if one of Cedonia’s greatest generals is willing to move to Adria and take up work for the Duke there. He wouldn’t be turning his coat in any way, Cedonia and Adria are not currently enemies, he would just be switching employers.

But Adelis has more enemies than even he believed, and Penric is being used. Even more so than usual. His arrival in Cedonia is all part of someone else’s plan to frame Adelis for treason and get both of them out of the picture. What happens to Penric is just collateral damage. But no one knows what Penric really is, that particular lack of attention on the part of those who are now both of their enemies is going to result in a nasty shock for someone – hopefully a lot of someones.

First Penric has to get Adelis, his sister Nikys, and himself out of the hole that has inconveniently dug for them, by making things very, very inconvenient for someone else. And by doing something that has never been done before – curing the blindness that was cruelly thrust upon Adelis to get him out of the way and make him pay for the plots that he wasn’t even a part of.

Yet. But he certainly is now.

All Penric has to do is get them all out of the country even though Adelis doesn’t trust him at all. And Nikys has come to trust him entirely too much. And vice-versa.

Escape Rating A: I loved the Chalion series, and this “extension” by Penric has been an absolutely treat from beginning to hopefully not end. The fourth book, Mira’s Last Dance, has just come out, and I truly hope this series continues.

You really do need to read all of Penric to get the full flavor of Penric’s life with his demon Desdemona. While each book is short, they layer on one another, getting deeper and deeper into Penric’s life and the way the world works with each outing. However, you don’t need to read the Chalion series to love Penric. But it’s awesome epic fantasy, so why wouldn’t you?

The story revolves around Penric and his demon Desdemona. If you like Penric’s character, the series is awesome because Penric is a lot of fun. Although his official title is “Learned Penric”, he sometimes answers to “Learned Fool” and it’s a pretty accurate description. Penric is always the fool that rushes in where angels or other beings rightfully fear to tread. So far, he always gets himself out again, if only by the skin of his, or even Desdemona’s, teeth. And generally by spreading a lot of chaos in his wake, and onto the local populations of vermin of all types – occasionally including humans.

Penric is terrific at not taking himself too seriously most of the time, and then just taking himself seriously enough. And while magic often gets him out of the scrapes he gets himself into, it’s never killing magic. Penric is constrained by his faith and his care for Desdemona not to use his magic to kill. His theology is well-articulated and absolutely fascinating, and it does work. If he kills using his magic, Desdemona will be stripped from him and sent back to the chaos from which she sprang. She would die, he would be excommunicated, and let’s just say it would be bad juju all the way around. Listening to Penric explain all of this to the general Adelis gives the reader a whole lot of insight into how it all works – and when it doesn’t.

He actually likes Desdemona. Most of the time, he doesn’t mind sharing his head with her. Occasionally she’s like an older sister he can’t get rid of, but he appreciates her and her 200 years of experience and power. Theirs is a symbiosis that works well. And even though they share Penric’s body, both characters are clearly delineated and different.

The story, as all of Penric’s stories so far, are about Penric solving a problem that he never expected to be dropped into. In this case, he’s not only solving his problem, but also Adelis and Nikys’ problems as well. And falling in love. Where that’s going to take him next should be another great story. And it’s a good thing that the next story is already out, because this one doesn’t so much end as stop, leaving the reader breathless for what comes next.

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.