fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsPenric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold fantasy book reviewsPenric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold

It’s been ten years since Lois McMaster Bujold, one of my favorite authors, published a story set in her FIVE GODS fantasy world. This is the award-wining series that consists of The Curse of Chalion (2001, Mythopoeic Fantasy Award), The Paladin of Souls (2003, Hugo, Nebula, Locus Award) and The Hallowed Hunt (2005). I read these when they were first released, and I loved them, so maybe you can imagine how happy I was to hear that Bujold has written a new novella set in the same world.

I listened to the audio version of Penric’s Demon, read by Grover Gardner. He has become one of my favorite narrators since I listened to him read most of Bujold’s VORKOSIGAN series. As expected, he does a great job with the narration of this four-hour long novella, and I am pleased to recommend this version to you. You don’t need to be familiar with the FIVE GODS world at all since Penric’s Demon stands alone. In fact, it’s a really good introduction to the three novels in the series. The novels, by the way, can be read in any order.

Penric is a young nobleman whose family has lost its fortune. Penric would love to go to the academy to get an education, but instead his poor family has arranged for him to marry the daughter of a rich cheese maker. As he is on the way to secure the betrothal, he comes upon the caravan of an elderly woman who has had a heart attack. When he stops to help her, she dies and Penric falls unconscious.Penric & Desdemona

A day later he wakes up to learn that the old woman was a temple sorceress for the god who is also called “The Bastard.” She was hosting a powerful demon who jumped ship at her death and now resides inside Penric. Humans who host a demon may be able to use its powers to do magic, but a host who isn’t strong enough is likely to be overpowered by the demon. Now everyone is worried that Penric’s body will be taken over by the demon and none of his family or friends wants to touch him. This is bad enough but, in addition, there are other people who have evil plans for Penric and hope to use his misfortune for their gain.

Penric’s Demon is short, so it doesn’t succeed on as many levels as the previous FIVE GODS novels do. The plot is simple and straightforward and, due to time constraints, the characters aren’t explored quite as deeply as we’d expect from Bujold. Still, though, the story is recognizably Bujold’s, with her imaginative world, interesting characters, exciting plot, lovely but succinct prose, and wry sense of humor. I enjoyed the story and was thrilled to be back in Bujold’s fantasy world.

Penric’s Demon was released only in Kindle and audio formats. I am really hoping that our return to the FIVE GODS world means that more novels are forthcoming. For now, I can’t see any evidence either way at Bujold’s website.

Update: Subterranean Press released a hardback version. Also, there are now more novellas about Penric and his demon. Yay!

The World of the Five Gods — (2001-2016) Publisher: On the eve of the Daughter’s Day — the grand celebration that will honor the Lady of Spring, one of the five reigning deities — a man broken in body and spirit makes his way slowly down the road to Valenda. A former courtier and soldier, Cazaril has survived indignity and horrific torture as a slave aboard an enemy galley. Now he seeks nothing more than a menial job in the kitchens of the Dowager Provincara, in the noble household where he served as page in his youth. But the gods have greater plans for this humbled man. Welcomed warmly, clothed and fed, he is named, to his great surprise, secretary tutor to the Royesse Iselle — the beautiful, strong-willed sister of the impetuous boy who is destined to be the next ruler of the land. But the assignment must ultimately carry Cazaril to the one place he fears even more than the sea: to the royal court of Cardegoss, rife with intrigues and lethal treacheries. In Cardegoss, the powerful enemies who once placed Cazaril in chains and bound him to a Roknori oar now occupy the most lofty positions in the realm, beneath only the Roya himself. Yet something for more sinister than their scheming hangs like a sword over the royal family: a curse of the blood that taints not only those who would rule, but those who stand in their circle. The life and future of both Iselle and her entire blighted House of Chalion lie in dire peril. The only recourse left to her loyal, damaged servant is the employment of the darkest and most forbidden of magics — a choice that will indelibly mark Cazaril as a tool of the miraculous… and trap him, flesh and soul, in a maze of demonic paradox, damnation, and death for as long as he dares walk the five-fold pathway of the gods.


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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