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.
So 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.