The Physicians of Vilnoc by Lois McMaster Bujold science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Physicians of Vilnoc by Lois McMaster Bujold science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Physicians of Vilnoc by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Physicians of Vilnoc (2020) is another installment in Lois McMaster Bujold’s PENRIC AND DESDEMONA series which is set in the same world as her award-winning FIVE GODS / CHALION trilogy. You don’t need to read the CHALION books first, but I highly recommend them. Most of the PENRIC AND DESDEMONA novellas can stand alone, but it’s best to read them in order if you can.

The Physicians of Vilnoc is the eighth story if you go buy publication order but the ninth if you go by internal chronology. The very short installment called Masquerade in Lodi was the latest to be published (as of January 2021), but occurs before this one.

Penric and his resident demon Desdemona are at home with Penric’s wife and new baby (awww!) when Penric’s brother-in-law, General Arisaydia, asks them for help. Some of his soldiers are dying from an unknown illness and the doctors can’t figure out what’s going on.

Penric & DesdemonaSo Penric leaves his family and travels to the General’s camp in Vilnoc. Indeed, the deadly disease is mysterious and Penric is stumped. Some help will come from various sources such as a refugee camp and a few other physicians, including one who is willing to do experiments on himself.

The Physicians of Vilnoc is another mostly pleasant chapter in Penric’s life. This story has an engrossing mystery and readers will learn more about the religion of the FIVE GODS world. There are some mildly disturbing scenes involving dead animals.

Bujold has dedicated this novella to “all the practitioners through the long, long history of medicine who tried the wildest experiments, often failed, sometimes succeeded, and helped make our world.”

As always, Blackstone Audio’s version, which is 5 hours long and narrated by Grover Gardner, is excellent. I am always a little behind with the PENRIC AND DESDEMONA novellas because the audio editions come out months later, but I’m always glad I waited. The next story is the aforementioned Masquerade in Lodi which is already out in ebook format but should appear in audio format next month.

Published in 2020. When a mysterious plague breaks out in the army fort guarding Vilnoc, the port capital of the duchy of Orbas, Temple sorcerer Penric and his demon Desdemona are called upon by General Arisaydia to resurrect Penric’s medical skills and solve its lethal riddle. In the grueling days that follow, Pen will find that even his magic is not enough to meet the challenges without help from dedicated new colleagues—and the god of mischance.


  • 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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