So this novella kinda came out of nowhere for me, kinda knocked my socks off, and until I finished writing this post, I was pretty unsure why.
Of course, Lois McMaster Bujold is a name seen often enough in the types of places fantasy and science fiction readers hang out. Certainly one that had occupied a small space in the back of my mind, probably since I first started “paying attention to the genre”. But it was a name that, for me, wasn’t really drawn on the map. Indeed I could not even sketch a little serpent in the corner of said map and write “here be dragons”, because I wasn’t even sure it was dragons that would “here be”.
A quick skim of her Wikipedia page would have me writing “here be Hugo Awards”. With four best novel wins, two best series wins, and a healthy amount of nominations (all of which were nominated for and took wins in other awards), her accolades number high enough to require a chart and several bullet points beneath the chart.
I suppose this is why I’d heard of her.
Having read a few Hugo award winners now, it seems to me that each author on the short list has a “thing” which is exceptional (and often novel) about their writing which set them apart from the vast legion of SFF titles that were published that year.
From reading the Green Bone Saga I think it’s safe to say that Fonda Lee’s “thing” is incredible characters and generational drama which play on (read: destroy) your heart strings and leave you something of a husk for several days after finishing (all of this in the best possible way of course). The magical kung-fu gangster setting is also quite stand-out as well.
Shannon Chakraborty’s “thing” seems to be Islamic myth and legend which I had not read much (or any) of before seeing her name on the awards list. Of course she supports her “thing” with incredible amounts of research, worldbuilding, and great characters so expertly crafted and engaging that I actually cared about the resolution of their love triangle. Her most recent release, The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi, still focuses heavily on her “thing”, but also brings inclusion into the mix. I’m excited to read what she does next.
From the (albeit) limited sample size of Penric’s Demon, Bujold’s “thing” is a little harder to lock down. Her prose are expert, affecting the kind of serious diction we expect from a fantasy novel, but contrasting it with the often not-so-serious events, thoughts, and actions of Penric, a teenage boy.
The magic in The World of The Five Gods seems mysterious but clearly well thought out enough to be systematic. I never felt bludgeoned over the head with its mechanics and indeed enjoyed a lot of the nuance in how the main characters were able to find loopholes in the “rules”.
Finally, I felt the scope of the adventure to be quite refreshing. I’m happy to read (listen to, or watch) universe threatening epics as much as the next person, but a “simple” yarn about a country lord accidently acquiring and learning to live with a demon was certainly a nice change of pace.
But none of these things seem to be THEEE “thing”.
So I asked twitter . . . and then I asked twitter again.
Upon my second ask I got a response that it was: “Partnerships! Bujold likes a good partnership story, so under all the plot stuff, you get two people who cross paths and are surprised at how well they come to work together”
And it was like my mind exploded. THIS was absolutely the “thing”.
There is so much in Penric’s Demon that will make you smile (my personal favorite was when he must split with his fiancé (arranged) to essentially go adventure, and she gives him a giant wheel of cheese. It was somehow so heartfelt but also hilarious), but at the end of the day, it was Penric’s and (the demon) Desdemona’s relationship — so clearly viewed by everyone else in the novella as something supposedly antagonistic — which had me smiling the most.
Give This One a Read?
Yup! Come for the magic and wit (catch your breath with the relatively short page length), but stay for the bonding.
(not to be confused with the bondage which is more the speed of Kushiel’s Dart)
Welp that’s all I’ve got this week. Has anyone read this one? What made you smile the most? Let me know in the comments!