Anyone who has read my blog will know that I am a huge fan of Bujold’s work – see my review of Cryoburn. And this short offering is set in the world she created with The Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls and The Hallowed Hunt. It’s a measure of the mess I’m in with my TBR mountain that gems like The Hallowed Hunt and Penric’s Demon exist in there unread.
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.
It’s a great premise and Bujold handles it beautifully. During the rest of the story, we witness the unworldly, poverty-stricken younger son grapple with the challenge of facing an ancient demon used to residing within highly trained women. I love the way she unfolds the story and I get lost in her worlds in a way that rarely happens with anyone else. There are no bells and whistles with Bujold’s writing style, nevertheless its smooth unobtrusiveness doesn’t so much hook as harpoon me into her story – it was almost physically painful to put down the book before finishing it.
Penric is very well handled – it would have been easy to write him as an unknowing innocent or some appalled victim flailing around helplessly, but while he is inexperienced and naïve, he is also intelligent. I love the little details she adds – the demon’s fascination with Penric’s body, for instance. Bujold’s wry humour regularly surfaces throughout this novella, so that along with the growing tension and danger I also had moments where I found myself grinning.
The supporting cast are also vividly depicted and this world leaps off the pages as only worlds can when an author knows and loves an establishing setting. So although this isn’t a long book, it covers a lot of ground in a short space of time and while I was aware I was burning through it fast, it didn’t suddenly come to an abrupt halt just as it was getting going – an ongoing issue I have with some poorly paced novellas.
As you might have gathered, I LOVED this one. It’s a gem and before the month is over, I’ve promised myself the pleasure of sitting down with the sequel Penric and the Shaman – and it’s promises like this that make Life so very sweet.