the Little Red Reviewer

Penric’s Demon, by Lois McMaster Bujold

Posted on: June 13, 2017

Penric’s Demon, by Lois McMaster Bujold

published in May 2016

where I got it: received ARC from the publisher (Thanks Subterranean Press!)

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Everyone has heard of Lois McMaster Bujold. Creator of the beloved and long running Vorkosigan space opera series, and creator of the World of the Five Gods fantasy series, among other series and stand alones. I imagine she has multiple mantles in her house to display the myriad awards she has won during her long career.
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When Subterranean Press sent me advanced reading copies of her new novellas that take place in her World of the Five Gods series, my first thought was how many additional novels will I have to read for these to make sense? New novels and stories in the Vorkosigan series make me nervous because I am so under read in that series that I miss more than half the jokes. So as more Penric novellas showed up on my doorstep, I got more and more nervous. But? The first one was scarecly 200 pages, and if I read 20 pages and nothing made sense, I could always put it down, right?
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So, the good news is that I had nothing to worry about, because Penric’s Demon is a pleasure to read, and requires zero knowledge whatsoever of the world.
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The better news is that there are now four novellas in this group (not exactly a series?), so if you like what you read in Penric’s Demon, there’s plenty more for you to enjoy.
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Ok, I lied. You need to know a smidgen about the World of the Five Gods for Penric’s Demon to make sense. You need to know it’s a medieval secondary fantasy world with a feudal government and sorcerers receive formal educations to best use their powers. Also, there are five gods. There. That’s all you need to know to go into these novellas and enjoy yourself.
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Penric, the son of a country baron of dwindling fortune, is nineteen and naive. On his way to his formal betrothal ceremony, he stops by the side of the road to help an ailing old woman. She doesn’t make it, and this is the end of Penric’s boring provincial life. She wasn’t just any old woman. Learned Ruchia of Martensbridge was a physician, high sorceress, and she was carrying an old demon. When she died, the demon had to go somewhere. It went into Penric.

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Once people realize what has happened, and that Pen now has an unexpected additional to his personality, he is whisked away to the Temple for some proper education. Pen has no idea what he’s supposed to do with this demon, he doesn’t know what the demon could do to him. Pen may be ignorant, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be polite to his new “friend”.

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He asks her what her name is. When she doesn’t seem to have a name that belongs to her and her alone, he offers to give her one. As a gift. He asks her what types of things make her happy. The demon has never received a gift before, and seems pleased to be given the name Desdemona. She also seems very pleased any time they visit the men’s baths. Desdemona has never been in a man’s body before. I get the feeling she’s also never been treated as an equal, or as a friend.

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The conversations between Pen and Des are hilarious. She has all the knowledge of her previous riders, including whatever languages they spoke and read, and whatever magical skills they had. Pen slowly learns the languages and starts to gain an understanding of the magic, but there is a danger here. Multiple dangers, in fact. It is known that demons eventually ascend, and take over their human partners, mind, body, and soul. It is also known that if you kill a person who carries a demon, that demon must go somewhere. Pen might be enjoying have the knowledge of a dozen sorcerers in his mind, but he needs to watch his back. And what will Desdemona do if he doesn’t keep her happy? Does friendship even matter, when Pen doesn’t know the extent of Des’s demonic nature?

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Penric’s Demon was such a absolute joy to read. What little knowledge I needed of the world was fully explained (but not infodumped), Pen is a fantastic character if overly naive, and Desdemona is marvelous. Yes, she has incredible cosmic powers, but also has the same emotional needs of any human. She seems used to be treated like a tool, like an object, like something to be feared. Pen treats her like a friend. They don’t always agree on things, and she sometimes gets him in trouble, but they help each other out. It’s really quite cute.

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You know, if the other Demons find out how nice and polite these kids from the country are, they might never want to reside in a Learned Sorcerer again.

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And that final scene? Pen wasn’t the only one who needed a few minutes to get his composure back. And apparently I enjoy being gutpunched, because I read that scene like four times. It is a rare thing for a demon to show her vulnerable depths.
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With a very focused plot, and a single point of view character, Penric’s Demon is not only an excellent and enjoyable read, but it’s an easy place to start if you’ve never read any McMaster Bujold and you’re wondering what all the fuss is about. Mc Master Bujold is an absolute treasure to science fiction and fantasy. If you zip through these novellas and want more, there is the entire World of the Five Gods series as well! I sure am thankful that’s I’ve got the next two novellas sitting here, I can’t wait to dive into them and see what hijinks (and serious stuff) Pen and Des get themselves involved with.

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9 Responses to "Penric’s Demon, by Lois McMaster Bujold"

These Penric novellas are so delightful! I enjoyed both Penric’s Demon and Penric and the Shaman and I’m practically dancing with joy that there’s a third book just waiting for me to devour next.

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Beyond Penric’s Demon, there is also Penric and the Shaman (which I’m reading right now, and it’s awesome), and Penric’s Mission. According to Wikipedia, there is also a fourth novella in this grouping, called Mira’s Last Dance.

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Never been able to get more than a couple chapters in a Bujold book. I have the same problem with C.J. Cherryh. Their writing just doesn’t grab me.

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I hear you on Cherryh. I keep thinking “this will be the book that gets me into Cherryh!” and it never happens. For what it’s worth, the small handful of Bujold novels I’ve enjoyed it did take a bit for me to get into them.

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I’m glad to hear you can enjoy this one without having read the others. 🙂

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yes! I’ve read some other novellas that were “stand along stories in the such and such universe”, and I felt like I was missing a lot of references. No so with these. they are great, and you can just dive right in!

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Would you believe that I have two books by this author and still haven’t read them. I don’t know what’s going on with my bookshelves or all my time any more! Curse of Chalion and Cordelia’s Honor? Might of got those titles wrong though – have you read those??

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Huge Bujold fan here. Those are both great books in my opinion. Your opinion will vary depending on things you like.

Curse of Chalion is a fantasy set in the same 5 Gods world as Penric. It’s also written later in Bujold’s career, and I think it’s better and deeper for that.

Cordelia’s Honor is the beginning of the Nexus science fiction series. It has romance, politics, space battles and adventure.

I don’t think Bujold has ever written a bad book. There’s only good ones and great ones. 🙂

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I read Cordelia’s Honor and really liked it. I liked that it was a space opera with action and drama and politics and a functioning romance that was important to the story.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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