Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold

(mild spoilers, particularly for Penric’s Demon)

The last time I wrote a Penric review I said Bujold wrote like I would sell my soul to.

Since then, I have reconsidered my opinion. It’s a pretty big thing to do after all.

I would sell your soul though.

This is probably the wrong attitude for a Penric novella, what with their general greathearted tone and concern for the soul. I don’t think Penric would approve but hey. I’m just really rather jealous of how good Bujold is, and this novella is no exception.

Penric and the Shaman is the second book in the series, and one that takes a jump forwards in not only the time line (four years) and the lead character’s maturity, but also the series’ ambition. There are three PoVs, including Penric himself. Penric here is now a full fledged sorcerer and divine, trusted to make his own way on certain things and trusting himself to get things right. As such, when a locator of the Father’s Order named Oswyl requests a sorcerer to help him track down a fugitive, Penric’s superiors have no hesitation lending him out.

Oswyl is one of the PoVs. The other is the fugitive, Inglis, who is also the titular shaman. Without giving too much away, Inglis has made a big mistake, and cut himself off from his own power as a result. That’s something of a problem though, as Penric stumbles across a situation that really needs a shaman in the chase after Inglis.

The plot is surprisingly twisty for a novella where you know things will end mostly right (this is Bujold, she has a trademark). The characterisation is as deft as ever with Oswyl giving a star turn as a man so far out of his depth that he couldn’t find the bottom with a top of the range sonar but still intent on doing what he thinks right. Penric’s wry and mysterious self-confidence makes a wonderful contrast. There’s a lovely little backcountry family that liven up the back part of the book, not that it particularly needed livening up more.

It’s just a perfect little slice of fantasy. I don’t understand how so much can fit in a novella. The only downside is less Desdemona but if you’re prepared to buy that as a feature, I can’t see how anyone wouldn’t love this book.

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