This series is one of our auto-buys as Lois McMaster Bujold is one of those handful of authors that we both absolutely love. But as the series wears on, will I continue to find it as engrossing as it was when it first started?
When the ship in which they are traveling is captured by Carpagamon island raiders, Temple sorcerer Penric and his resident demon Desdemona find their life complicated by two young orphans, Lencia and Seuka Corva, far from home and searching for their missing father. Pen and Des will need all their combined talents of mind and magic to unravel the mysteries of the sisters and escape from the pirate stronghold. This novella follows about a year after the events of The Prisoner of Limnos.
Penric, now happily married, is an increasingly reluctant traveller but is once more sent off on a mission – and during a sea voyage the ship he’s on falls prey to pirates, looking for passengers to sell into slavery. I really like the dynamic between Penric and the main demon living inside him, who he has named Desdemona. Recalling how horrified he initially was when the demon leapt into his body in the first book – Penric’s Demon, it is enjoyable to see just how well they now work as a team. In order to get the best from this one, you really need to have at least read the first book, although it is sufficiently well paced and constructed that if you do happen to crash midway into this series, I don’t think you would flounder all that much.
This is a world where the gods actually intercede in the affairs of humans, despite there being an ongoing war over a theological schism where one group believe there are five gods (the sect Penric belongs to) and those who don’t accept or believe in the Bastard God. This is important to remember when a particular plotpoint occurs, so that you don’t feel it is too convenient.
I like the fact that Bujold has managed not to make Penric too overwhelmingly powerful, despite his formidable talent – and there is a cost to his magic. What also seriously hampers him in this story is that he has taken two young girls under his wing. While getting off the island as a fit, determined young man possessed of serious magic would present an achievable challenge, it becomes a far more difficult task when he has to take into account the limitations posed by two malnourished young children.
As ever, the pacing and plotting is excellently judged. Bujold is completely in charge of this shorter form in the way that many authors aren’t and though I was sorry when the story came to an end, the conclusion was entirely satisfactory and expected. I do hate it when a novella-length adventure scurries to an abrupt end leaving me off-balance and expecting something more. This whole series is highly recommended for fans of well written character-led novella-length adventures.