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“The Prisoner of Limnos” by Lois McMaster Bujold

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The sixth installment of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Penric and Desdemona series sees Penric setting out on a mission to rescue the mother of the woman he loves, who is currently being held as a political prisoner. This story significantly expands the cast of characters, most of whom are connected to Nikys rather than Penric. These characters are all interesting, and I’m hoping that some of them will appear in future stories.

The earlier novella Penric and the Shaman featured visions of the Father and Son, while Penric’s Demon gave us a direct glimpse of the Bastard. In this story, one character has an experience of the Daughter, which leaves the Mother as the only one of the five deities who hasn’t directly made her presence felt. We know that Penric spent some time with the Mother’s order and that this experience was not, to say the least, wholly positive. I’m wondering if some of his lingering distress over that episode will eventually be resolved by the Mother herself.

In addition to the tension of Penric trying to infiltrate a stronghold and rescue a prisoner, this installment gives us a different kind of drama with Nikys’s relationship to Penric. He’s clearly attracted to her, and she was starting to develop feelings for him as well, but the events of Mira’s Last Dance made her realize that a relationship with Penric is also inescapably a relationship with Desdemona. Aside from the fact of Desdemona being a demon, she’s also female, and Nikys appears to be straight. Naturally, she feels conflicted about all this, and one of the major themes of this story is her working through those feelings.

Although it’s not particularly long, this is a very full story, with some action sequences, great character interactions, and a well-developed romance arc. I’m looking forward to seeing where Penric and Desdemona go next.

“Penric’s Fox” by Lois McMaster Bujold

This installment in the Penric and Desdemona series takes place before the two most recent installments. Penric is called in to consult on a murder mystery, which becomes of more personal interest to him when it’s revealed that the victim, like him, was carrying one of the Bastard’s chaos demons.

We were first introduced to shamanic magic in Penric and the Shaman, and I enjoyed getting a more extensive look at it here. The mystery was also interesting, and there was one scene with Penric’s patron, the princess-archdivine, that humanized this formerly remote figure.

Like the previous Penric novellas, this is a quick read, but Bujold packs a lot of characterization and plot into the relatively small space. And Penric’s story isn’t over yet: a new novella, The Prisoner of Limnon, is already available. It picks up where Mira’s Last Dance left off, bringing us back to Penric’s current adventures. But Penric’s Fox is an engaging detour that’s well worth reading.

“Mira’s Last Dance” by Lois McMaster Bujold

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When I reviewed the previous “Penric and Desdemona” novella, Penric’s Mission, I mentioned a speculation on the part of some readers that a chronologically-immediate sequel would be forthcoming. This speculation turns out to have been correct, as Mira’s Last Dance picks up within a few days of where Mission left off. Penric, Adelis, and Nikys are still trying to make their way to Orbas without being apprehended by the people who framed Adelis. To make things more complicated, Penric is recovering from a severe injury he received in battle with another sorcerer at the climax of Mission.

Having read all of the Penric novellas on a Kindle, I’m not sure whether Mira is actually shorter than the others, but it felt shorter. And that’s really my only complaint about it. I loved seeing a facet of Desdemona that hadn’t been featured in the previous stories, and I enjoyed the further development of Penric and Nikys’s relationship. This is the fourth novella in the series, and I’ll be eager to read number five when it comes out.

“Penric’s Mission” by Lois McMaster Bujold

The third novella in Bujold’s “World of the Five Gods” series presents us with an older and more experienced Penric. Betrayed while on a diplomatic mission to a neighboring country, Penric’s fate becomes bound up with that of a falsely-accused general and his widowed sister.

As with Penric and the Shaman, this installment gives us more development of both the central characters and their surrounding world. Penric and Desdemona have been through a lot since we last saw them, and the effect of those events on them as individuals and on their relationship brings an emotional weight to the story. We’re also introduced to the nation of Cedonia, and its political intrigues are key to the plot. The way the World of the Five Gods gradually expands with each new story is a big part of what makes the setting so compelling to me.

My one complaint was with the ending. Penric and his companions spend much of their time on the road, but Penric’s Mission ends before they reach their destination. The larger plot surrounding the general also didn’t feel like it got a satisfying resolution to me. Some reviewers have suggested that the next novella will immediately follow the events of Penric’s Mission, which would obviously mitigate this. Whether or not that speculation is correct, I’m eagerly awaiting the next chapter in Penric and Desdemona’s adventures.

“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.