Reconciling With Your Other Half: Penric and the Shaman

penric and the shamanPenric and the Shaman (2016)
Written by: Lois McMaster Bujold
Pages: 160 (Kindle)
Publisher: Spectrum Literary Agency, Inc

Why I chose it: I’ve read (and adored) Bujold’s Sharing Knife series and have been wanting to read more of her work. When this Penric novella was offered as a Hugo reading, I took the opportunity to expand my Bujold repertoire. 

The premise:

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.

This review is spoiler free.

Discussion: Let’s start with the full disclosure that despite the fact that I volunteered to review the entire short story nomination list as well as one other novella, I really very rarely read short form fiction. This is mostly because of several bad experiences where “short form” really meant “I didn’t have the energy or the interest in writing a full length book so here’s half of an idea that I had in a dream.” I was very happily surprised by this novella, as it was the perfect length for the story it wanted to tell.

As is mentioned in the premise, Penric’s story is set in the larger universe of The World of the Five Gods, which also contains The Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls, and The Hallowed Hunt, all of which are full length novels. Paladin of Souls won both the Hugo and the Nebula award in 2005 and The Curse of Chalion was nominated for both awards in 2002. I haven’t read the novels and can’t speak to whether or not your basic understanding of Penric’s tale would be enhanced by having done so. That said, I don’t believe I missed anything and had no trouble following the action and plot in the Penric novellas.

The first novella Penric’s Demon is about Penric’s acquisition of a demon he eventually names Desdemona for easy reference (though she has at least 10 distinct personalities based on the previous humans she possessed). The possession makes him a sorcerer and pulls him from the otherwise kind of dull life as the younger son of a lesser nobleman. This story actually brought tears to my eyes by the end, almost entirely due to Penric’s relationship with the demon possessing him. (And with the use of the word demon, don’t think of the demons of Christian theology, we’re dealing with something very different here.)

Penric and the Shaman is set four years after the events of Penric’s Demon. Penric and Desdemona have been advancing in studies and practicing magic; Penric has been growing and maturing, and Desdemona has been carrying on as she usually does. What I really want to emphasize here, without repeating the premise at the beginning, is how much Penric matures, and how much the two of them have changed each other over the intervening four years. 

Because what I really liked about reading these two novellas back-to-back was the contrast in how different the characters are but in an organic, natural way that speaks of actual growth. Penric becomes a lot more sure of himself, but doesn’t lose the sweetness and gentleness that always characterized him. Demons by nature take on a lot of the characteristics of the humans they’re “riding” and you can definitely see that in Desdemona.

In conclusion: This is an entertaining story in an interesting world with a lot of history already. And it’s a nice bite-sized chunk of the world to take for a spin before you commit to a three book series. This story employs the perfect amount of levity with its less savory action to create a very delicate balance between darkness and humor. Perfect for fans that like to giggle while they’re being given the creeps. I’ve already purchased the next installments in the Penric series, and I definitely plan to read the full length novels when I have the chance. I’ve only read one other book in the novella category and of the two, I think I’d pick Every Heart a Doorway for the Hugo, but I did really enjoy this one.

5 Comments

  • Lane Robins July 20, 2017 at 8:29 am

    This sounds really good. I shied away from the “demon” concept, but if it’s not all heavily judeo-christian, I’ll have to give it a shot.

    Reply
    • Shara White July 20, 2017 at 8:52 am

      Have you read The Curse of Chalion or The Paladin of Souls? These are written in that world and I personally adore the worldbuilding. I’ve read the first novella but not the rest, not yet.

      Reply
      • Weasel of Doom July 20, 2017 at 9:14 am

        I second Shara’s recommendations!

        Reply
    • Weasel of Doom July 20, 2017 at 9:13 am

      It’s not Judeo-Christian at all, in my opinion. You should totally give it a shot!

      Reply
  • Shara White July 22, 2017 at 12:04 pm

    Merrin, do you plan to read the other novellas in the series, or the three books written in this world? Each book is very different, but they are each wonderful. I think Paladin of Souls is my favorite, partially because it’s not often we get an older woman as the star of her own story.

    Reply

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