Review: Penric and the Shaman

cover-penric and the shamanTitle: Penric and the Shaman
Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Series: Penric and Des #2 (World of the Five Gods #1.6)
Genre: Fantasy
Length: Novella
Available: Now

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In this NOVELLA set in The World of the Five Gods and four years after the events in “Penric’s Demon”, Penric is a divine of the Bastard’s Order as well as a sorcerer and scholar, living in the palace where the Princess-Archdivine holds court. His scholarly work is interrupted when the Archdivine agrees to send Penric, in his role as sorcerer, to accompany a “Locator” of the Father’s Order, assigned to capture Inglis, a runaway shaman charged with the murder of his best friend. However, the situation they discover in the mountains is far more complex than expected. Penric’s roles as sorcerer, strategist, and counselor are all called upon before the end.

Bujold delivers an astonishing tale that is not soon forgotten.


Source: Bought it

The release of Penric and the Demon was an unexpected delight last year, when it suddenly appeared as if from nowhere, so I was beyond excited to see that there would be a follow up so soon. Add in the fact that the title suggests a return to the strange magic of the Weald, as first experienced in The Hallowed Hunt, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.

Luckily, on the whole, this book didn’t let me down. Pen is a bit older and rather a lot wiser, his relationship with Des having settled down a lot in the intervening four years, but this book is not really about them. While he is a definite main character, this story is more about young Inglis’ personal struggles and the determination of Oswyl, the Locator, not to be late or miss his chance for justice.

I loved the mix of humour and how it balances against the preoccupation this book frequently has with death, or after-death issues. It’s not dark or even maudlin, more thoughtful and quiet, but the humour also helps to alleviate some of Inglis’ whiny behaviour. Death and Justice are themes that crop up a lot in LMB’s work, particularly in the Five Gods world, and the idea that the living have certain responsibilities towards the dead is thoughtfully explored and skillfully handled.

However, I didn’t enjoy this as much as the last novella, for a few reasons. One, I would have liked more Des. She’s the heart of this novella’s humour, and obviously the source of much of Penric’s wisdom, but she felt a little sidelined here. Two, while the shaman magic is described, it doesn’t go into much depth. I’ve read The Hallowed Hunt, so I already know a lot more about it, but for new readers or those who need a refresh, this might be a touch confusing. Especially the talk of Great Beasts, because that doesn’t get explained until quite late. Three, I found Inglis kind of irritating towards the end – he has a lot of growing up to do. Finally, four, I’m kind of sad that all the main and important characters here are male. (Well, and five, sad lack of the Bastard God, but I can’t expect Him to turn up every time, it would spoil the surprise.)

Even with all that, I still thoroughly enjoyed this book, not least because of poor Oswyl’s utter bafflement over Penric. I also loved the two dogs and the part they played. This isn’t a flashy or action-packed book, it’s part road-trip, part investigation and all careful consideration. It might not keep you gripped and frantically turning the pages, but it will likely make you think a bit and smile a lot. I love this world, I love these characters and the setting and the gods, and I’m delighted to have had a chance to read more about Penric and Des. I hope this isn’t the last we see of them, and I have no doubt I’ll be rereading this one again soon.


Penric and the Shaman is Out Now!
Visit Lois McMaster Bujold for more details.

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