Written by Lois McMaster Bujold
Published by Baen
Paperback, 323 pages
Unlike some of the previous reviews I’ve had, jumping into the middle of a series, this is a welcome dive. Lois McMaster Bujold has published several books as well as short stories. This particular book is a collection of three novellas about Penric, a sorcerer who is also the host of a demon, Desdemona. They are happy partners, the demon lives within the host until they die and then will jump to another host. Even though the three stories were not written as a series, they each are tightly linked, or as the author states “the Cedonia triptych.” A reader is able to enjoy without having to know the history of the characters but will be able to learn what is needed as they proceed and, as the author hopes, become interested in Penric’s younger years that are told in other stories.
So was a good arc or not so much?
Minor spoilers ahead…
We meet Learned Penric as he journeys to another country to do the secret bidding for a rival Duke. What he doesn’t know is that his arrival is not a secret and things do not go as planned. This gives the reader a good chance to learn more about him and his chaos demon, Des, since they’re alone and the dialog for this situation is internal. He is later acquainted with the party he was meant to find, a general named Adelis who recently had the misfortune of becoming blind. With the help of Adelis’ sister, Nikys, Penric and Des heal Adelis’ and escape from their country and those who seek to harm them.
“Mira’s Last Dance”
The next story picks up hours after “Penric’s Mission” ends. The journey for Penric, Adelis, and Nikys is not over yet. They still have to cross the border to safety and this means getting past a military unit who would know Adelis. This story deals out fun shenanigans, with our heroes having to disguise themselves. Much of the story follows the essence of a previous host for Desdemona, Mira. I won’t go into much detail, but she does get to let her hair down and have fun. The siblings also get a better understanding of how the host and symbiote can interact together. This intrigues and scares Nikys as the feelings between her and Penric bloom. Where does Penric end and Des begin? Though their antics are quite unusual, the three of them continue their journey to a safer place and the beginnings of a new life.
“The Prisoner of Limnos”
The trio have settled into the new country, resigned that this is their new home, except for Penric, who is wanted back at home with his former employer. He keeps stalling for one reason: Nikys. He would gladly stay if she will have him and she is not sure of having a third wheel with Desdemona. But this takes a back burner when she learns her mother has been placed in prison for no reason. Nikys asks for Penric’s help to rescue her mother. With the help of some old friends of Nikys and sly thinking from Penric and Des, breaking into a female only prison on a female only island is easy enough with some twist and turns. And what happens with Penric and Nikys? You’ll have to read to find out.
Which is what I highly suggest for this. These stories are charming.
One thing that Bujold stated in her author’s note was these stories are a complete read, no need to circle back to Penric’s Progress about his younger years to appreciate (though she hopes to spark the reader’s curiosity). The tight story arc is not her usual way of doing these novellas, and she admits taking time between “Mission” and “Mira” to write another before “Prisoner”. But you can read them separately and have a complete story in itself. After her forward, I was not expecting the stories to work as closely as they did, but it didn’t matter, I loved it. I’m glad, too, because there was no getting off the path; the story just kept going and going.
Lately I’ve been watching Stargate SG-1 and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, both of which feature characters with symbiotes. I think this helped me to respect the relationship between Penric and Desdemona. Part of me thinks it would be neat, but then I’d have someone else in my head….so a toss up. But like most of the characters in the TV shows, these two work very well together and are as one as much as they are a human and a demon. So the red flags Nikys has about entering a relationship with Penric is understandable. The conversation between the two women are fun and I would love to be a fly on the wall for any future dealings they may have. (Plus think of the love Penric must have to be able to live with two women, especially one that’s inside his head).
The overall story is fun with its highlights. There were plenty of times I was annoyed by Nikys’ brother, Adelis, but that will happen in any story and shows good character building by Bujold. Some of the politics did go over my head, but that’s true even in real life. I would definitely be interested in reading more about Penric, as I think Bujold did a great job at making him interesting enough to carry these stories yet has left me wanting to know more about him.
Penric’s Travels is a great way to be introduced to a smart, amusing, and complex character as well as a very engaging writer.