Review: Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold

penrics demon by lois mcmaster bujoldFormat read: ebook purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genre: fantasy
Series: World of the Five Gods #3.5
Length: 109 pages
Publisher: Spectrum Literary Agency
Date Released: July 9, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

On his way to his betrothal, young Lord Penric comes upon a riding accident with an elderly lady on the ground, her maidservant and guardsmen distraught. As he approaches to help, he discovers that the lady is a Temple divine, servant to the five gods of this world. Her avowed god is The Bastard, “master of all disasters out of season”, and with her dying breath she bequeaths her mysterious powers to Penric. From that moment on, Penric’s life is irreversibly changed, and his life is in danger from those who envy or fear him.

My Review:

I read Bujold’s World of the Five Gods series back when the originally came out in the early years of the 21st century. And it’s making me feel old to realize that was 15 years ago. As the saying goes, “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.”

Moving on.

curse of chalion by lois mcmaster bujoldThe World of the Five Gods series was originally called the Chalion series, after the first book in the series, The Curse of Chalion. The other books in the series are Paladin of Souls and The Hallowed Hunt. I’m not sure you need to have read the whole series to enjoy Penric’s Demon. I am certain that you don’t have to have read them recently to enjoy Penric’s Demon.

Which I very much did.

One of the building blocks of the series is the religious set up. There are five gods, and everyone pledges themselves to one or another, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t offer prayers to all of them at need. Most of the gods symbolize, among other things, one stage of a person’s life. Except for Lord Bastard, “the master of all disasters out of season.” He is the god of demons, of curses, of Murphy’s Law, and definitely of children born out of wedlock. He’s not evil. He feels more like a chaos agent, or an avatar of chaos, than anything specifically evil. He’s a trickster god, like Loki and Raven and Coyote and Anansi and Pan.

One of the other salient points about the Five Gods is that in this universe, they are REAL. It may be seldom that people meet their particular god, but it does happen more than often enough to prove that these are real agencies who really do exactly what their followers claim. The turning point in this story is when Penric faces Lord Bastard and has to choose his own fate.

The story, in Penric’s Demon, is the story of what happens to one young man when an agent of chaos, a demon, enters his life. Literally enters, as an elderly “priestess” of the Bastard passes her demon to poor Penric at the moment of her death.

It’s a setup. By the old lady, and undoubtedly by the Bastard himself. It’s also a test. But one of the things that becomes clear in the story is that the introduction of this little bit of chaos into Penric’s otherwise ordinary life is the best thing that has ever happened to him. If the dangers that it causes don’t kill him first.

It helps if the reader casts any Biblical notions of demon out of their head. Immediately. Because Penric’s demon, just like the Bastard himself, is not evil. In the story, she is much more like a Trill symbiont from Star Trek than anything else. The “demon” is an entity that shares consciousness with its rider or host, but has it’s own unique personality. In the case of Penric’s demon, it has 12 separate personalities, as each person who has hosted the demon has added a bit of themselves to its make-up.

For Pen it’s like having 10 sisters living inside his head. The other two personalities were animals, and they don’t talk much. But the collective consciousness that Pen names Desdemona has a life of its own, and it’s a life that has much more experience and wisdom than Pen could ever accumulate no matter how long he lives. Although, if he doesn’t figure things out quickly, it will be a very short life with a very violent end.

On the other hand, he will never have any true privacy again for the rest of his life. Unless he lets the Bastard’s priests remove the demon. He’ll be free and Desdemona will be taken back to her god and dispersed.

The story here is Penric coming of age, coming into his own, and deciding for himself whether the mess he has landed in through his own good intentions is one that he wants to stay in for the rest of his life.

Escape Rating A-: I loved this story, I only wish there was more of it. Or at least a certainty that Bujold will return to this world in the future. I remember liking this place and its people, and this little dessert of a story has only reinforced that memory.

I think this might be a good introduction to the World of the Five Gods. It’s a very small story, focusing on one young man and his dilemma. The series as a whole had a big sweeping arc with a lot of interesting politics. I remember loving it, but it was also quite meaty. This novella is a tasty little mouthful that will give new readers a terrific introduction to the style and setting of the series.

Also the series tended to focus on one person’s life and the way it changed, as viewed through the political lens of the whole. The story in Penric’s Demon is also the story of one person’s life and the way it changes. Just not so big on the politics. And that’s just fine for a story of this length.

One of the fun things about this story is that Penric is a very likeable character. He finds himself in this dilemma because he begins with the best of intentions, and that’s the way he goes on. He’s also relatively young, but still an adult, and while he has been settled into the life his family expects, it is pretty clear that it is NOT what he wants for himself. The demon is every bit as much his opportunity to chart his own course as it is the demon’s best chance of not just staying alive, but of having a companion she finds congenial. It’s very much a win-win story.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Romance with a touch of rocket fuel

Sometimes I like my romances with just that little bit of rocket fuel to flavor the plot. I’m referring to science fiction romance, or SFR. After all, if love makes the world go round, there’s nothing to say it can’t power a starship, too!

One of the best writers in the genre right now is Linnea Sinclair. She’s the first author I read who made me recognize that this was really a separate category, and not just an offshoot of romance or space opera. Sinclair’s Dock Five Universe series can be read as pure space opera, if you want. Sixth-Fleet Captain Chasidah Bergren is court-martialed for a crime she didn’t commit. After being railroaded through Fleet justice, she is committed to a prison planet from which there is no escape. Except…after Chaz kills a guard in self-defense, a man she thought dead steps out of the shadows to take her out of prison, and into the rebellion against the Empire. Gabriel’s Ghost is the introduction to Dock Five, followed by Games of Command, Shades of Dark, Hope’s Folly and Rebels and Lovers. The Dock Five universe is a complex one, a world of political machinations, power, money, and evil on a galaxy wide scale. At the same time, love, honor and courage still motivate and compel humans to rise above themselves, to save their homes and their loved ones. Love still conquers all, even if it occasionally needs some help from engineering.

One of the longest running and most honored science fiction series had its origins as a science fiction romance. In 1986, Lois McMaster Bujold published the novel Shards of Honor. This is the first book in her multi-multi award winning Vorkosigan series, and it is absolutely science fiction romance. Cordelia Naismith, captain of a Beta Colony survey ship, meets Captain Lord Aral Vorkosigan when they are marooned together after a raid on a newly discovered planet. When they are “rescued” his crew mutinies and she assists him in defeating the mutineers. He proposes marriage. She is captured by Aral’s enemies, tortured, and then rescued again. Eventually, she is returned to her home, Beta Colony. There’s this one little problem. Aral Vorkosigan is known as the “Butcher of Komarr”, and her people believe that he tortured her, not his enemies. They think she’s been brainwashed. She finally runs away to his home planet Barrayar, to elope with Vorkosigan. If that’s not science fiction romance, then what is?

The Vorkosigan series is ongoing. The most recent book, Cryoburn, was nominated for the Hugo Award in 2011.

Last year, the Galaxy Express posted a list of the 100 best science fiction romances. I’ve read over a third of the list and I’m working my way through the rest. Linnea Sinclair and Lois McMaster Bujold are definitely there. But some are a surprise. I would never have thought of John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War as SFR. I loved the book and I would highly recommend it to anyone who reads SF. But it’s more like one of Robert A. Heinlein’s juveniles written for adults and updated 50 years. On the other hand, there is a love story involved, but it is understated and very low-key, especially in the first book. Read it and see.

Howsomever, if you really want to get hooked on something, find your way into the Liaden Universe by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. It’s an addiction.  Either start with Local Custom or Agent of Change.  Liaden is set in a future some unspecified number of centuries, or more likely millennia from now, after a space diaspora from some original planet, that may or may not be Terra, and a Terra which may or may not be Earth. Liaden is a universe of mercantile empires more than space armadas, but wars can be fought with weapons other than guns. So, Liaden is mercantile space opera. It is also about family, and family obligations, and duty and honor. And yes, each book does have a central love story. But mostly, they’re just plain good. The end of Crystal Dragon, I knew what was coming, and it still gave me the sniffles. What happened at the end was necessary, but it hurt.

But it was a good kind of hurt. The kind that makes you want to dive back in and read some more.


Voting for the Hugos

The Hugo nominations were officially posted on Sunday by Renovation, the 69th Annual World Science Fiction Convention.  Worldcon will be be held this coming August in Reno, Nevada, and the winners will be announced in a rather posh and occasionally hilarious ceremony on August 20.

I get to vote on the Hugos.  It’s easy.  All you have to do is buy an attending or supporting membership in that year’s Worldcon.  I usually just support, but this year, we’re planning to go.  And next year, since it will again be in one of our previous and much beloved homes, Chicago.

But back to the nominees.  They reflect the popularity and tastes of the folks who read, write, watch and publish science fiction and fantasy.  There are categories for everything.  Best novel, best short story, best film, best dramatic presentation (short form) which basically means a TV episode, best graphic novel, etc., etc., etc.  You get the idea.  But to be an informed voter, it’s important to read, or watch the thing nominated.  In other words, my TBR pile just got bigger, along with my to be viewed (TBV, I guess) list.

hundred thousand kingdoms coverI have only read one, yikes, one, of the nominated novels.  The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin.  It was one of those absolutely fabulous first novels, where you can’t believe it’s someone’s first novel.  It is also a coming-of-age story, and about the power of belief.  It may share some common points with Neil Gaiman’s American Gods when it comes to whether or not a deity that anyone has once believed in can ever truly be extinguished.

I have Connie Willis’ Blackout/All Clear on my iPad, but haven’t gotten around to it/them yet.  It/them have now risen several dozen rungs on the TBR ladder.  Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold is one that I had been thinking about.  I read the earlier books in her Miles Vorkosigan space opera series.  I loved the first two books, Shards of Honor and Barrayar, but there, Cordelia was the main character rather than Miles.  Now that Miles has grown into himself, he may be more sympathetic for me.  I’ll have to see.

There are also a lot of categories for shorter works.  Novellas, novellettes and short stories in particular.  One of the great things about this process is that if you are eligible to vote, all the  shorter stuff is made available to you online.  Sort of like the Academy voters getting free DVDs of all the movies.

In addition to the books, there are five movies, and five TV episodes.  Three of the TV episodes are from Doctor Who.  I’ve seen all three, and I don’t mind the excuse to watch them again.  But the title I’m most interested in is nominated in the Related Works category.  It’s titled Chicks Dig Time Lords, A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love It. I think only something like the Hugos would be so willing to nominate such a lighthearted look at the genre for a major award.  Besides, chicks really do dig Time Lords.  And I have the DVD collection to prove it.