I’ve grown to really look forward to this novella series making a regular appearance from the talented author, Lois McMaster Bujold, whose Miles Vorkosigan series was a major gamechanger in the genre – see my review of Cryoburn.
In this sequel to the novella Penric’s Mission, the injured Penric, a Temple sorcerer and learned divine, tries to guide the betrayed General Arisaydia and his widowed sister Nikys across the last hundred miles of hostile Cedonia to safety in the Duchy of Orbas.
Though the blurb above makes it very clear, my firm advice would be to first read Penric’s Mission before plunging into this one. While Bujold’s deft writing won’t leave you floundering, you are coming in halfway through this particular story arc and as it is a novella, it necessarily is more compressed and faster-moving than a novel so there simply isn’t the time to compensate for the inevitable gaps in the backstory.
This is another gem. I have loved the character progression Penric has undergone since becoming an accidental host to twelve demons when a young man setting out to become betrothed. But this adventure has definitely been his greatest challenge so far, though even daily life poses its own problems as a good man trying to accommodate a very powerful chaos demon. Bujold’s talent is to give us a ringside seat while Penric is constantly having to negotiate with the demons riding him, as well as react to a fast-changing and dangerous situation when his inclination is to pore through old manuscripts. I am every bit as entranced with Penric as that half-demented, adrenaline junkie, Miles Vorkosigan.
Penric is also accompanied by General Arisaydia and his sister, Nikys who are on the run from a despotic tyrant. Tension and danger tip into farce as Penric takes some extreme steps to keep the group safe – and in doing so, certainly sacrifices any trust and a fair degree of respect the General had for him. I sniggered throughout this episode, as Penric once more is dumped into the middle of a madcap situation courtesy of his demons that he couldn’t have imagined in his wildest dreams.
As with the other novellas in the series, this one has wormed its way into my head and won’t leave me alone – partly because there is no real closure on the main storyline. But the consolation is that Bujold is evidently on something of a roll with these books and I’m hoping another one is due out before the end of the year. In the meantime, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure, start at the beginning with Penric’s Demon – they are not long and reasonably priced – and if you enjoyed the Miles Vorkosigan series or appreciate intelligent, character-driven fantasy – you’ll thank me if you do.
Ben came to talk to West Sussex Writers’ last month about the ins and outs of self-publishing and how in just six years he has managed to establish himself as a successful indie author with a string of well regarded books. It was one of the best, most informative talks we’ve ever had. I’d downloaded one of his books a while ago and decided it was high time to read it.
“Magick ain’t pretty, it ain’t stars and sparkles. Magick is dirty. It’s rough. Raw. It’s blood and guts and vomit. You hear me?”
When Prime Lord Hark is found in a pool of his own blood on the steps of his halls, Tonmerion Hark finds his world not only turned upside down, but inside out. His father’s last will and testament forces him west across the Iron Ocean, to the very brink of the Endless Land and all civilisation. They call it Wyoming.
This is a story of murder and family.
In the dusty frontier town of Fell Falls, there is no silverware, no servants, no plush velvet nor towering spires. Only dust, danger, and the railway. Tonmerion has only one friend to help him escape the torturous heat and unravel his father’s murder. A faerie named Rhin. A twelve-inch tall outcast of his own kind.
This is a story of blood and magick.
But there are darker things at work in Fell Falls, and not just the railwraiths or the savages. Secrets lurk in Tonmerion’s bloodline. Secrets that will redefine this young Hark.
This is a story of the edge of the world.
I immediately liked the premise of a fantasy set in the Wild West as the railroad is being built and very much hoped the book would live up to the punchy blurb. It does. Merion is a really appealing protagonist – a suddenly orphaned thirteen-year-old, who is uprooted from all he knows and shipped out to the wilds of the frontier to live with an aunt he’s never met. Galley manages to establish him as sympathetic and beleaguered without turning him into a passive victim – a tricky balancing act to pull off successfully. I also loved Rin – he’s probably my favourite character in the story – a fae rebel on the run who befriends the isolated boy struggling to live up to his father’s iron-bound expectations. However, these two protagonists both make disastrous mistakes and are often selfish and obstinate, which I enjoyed, as I find it easier to bond with main characters when they are flawed.
The story is fast-paced with plenty of action and the scene setting is wonderful, so close our Victorian era but with some significant differences. The blood magic works extremely well – to the extent that at the back of the book there is a glossary explaining the rules and attributes that drinking the blood of various animals will provide the rusher. This is a rigorous magic system where users pay a price and the costs of getting it wrong can be fatal.
The major surprise at the end of the book had my jaw dropping – looking back I should have guessed it, but I didn’t and I am definitely going to be getting hold of the next book in this series. I want to know what happens next to our intrepid duo. If you enjoy action-packed fantasy with a strong setting, good magic system and engaging characters, then go looking for this one. Highly recommended.