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“Penric’s Demon” and “Penric and the Shaman” by Lois McMaster Bujold

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Best-known for her Vorkosigan Saga novels, Lois McMaster Bujold has also written a fantasy trilogy previously known as the Chalion books: The Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls, and The Hallowed Hunt. Penric’s Demon and Penric and the Shaman are novellas set in the same world, which Bujold is now calling the World of the Five Gods.

The main character, Penric, is the younger son of a minor noble. On a trip to meet a woman he’s been betrothed to, he encounters an elderly priestess in distress. This chance meeting results in a not-so-chance meeting that will change Penric’s life forever.

Penric’s Demon, the chronologically earlier of the two novellas, tells the story of this initial encounter and its immediate consequences. Enough background is given that the reader can understand what’s going on without having read the Chalion novels but is woven into the story in such a way as to avoid the dreaded infodump. Penric is a likeable character, and the other main character, Desdemona, is complex and interesting as well. The story features both intrigue and action, and both of the main characters change as a result of it.

Penric and the Shaman takes place several years later, after Penric has undergone training as a priest. Now working in the city where a good chunk of the previous story took place, he’s sent on a mission to track down a suspected murderer with mystical powers. Naturally, the case is more complicated than anyone suspected at first. This story adds to the lore of the World of the Five Gods. It also presents us with a Penric who has grown into the powers he obtained in Penric’s Demon. In that sense, it’s a very different story from the earlier one, but it maintains the tone and some of the themes that made Penric’s Demon so enjoyable. I’m hoping that Bujold continues writing stories in this setting—I would definitely read the further adventures of Penric and Desdemona.

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