Novella Review: Penric’s Mission by Lois McMaster Bujold
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Book 3 of Penric and Desdemona
Publisher: Subterranean Press (November 30, 2017)
Length: 264 pages
Bujold returns to her World of the Five Gods with another novella featuring Penric, a sorcerer of the Bastards’s Order, and Desdemona, the ancient and powerful demon riding in his head. We once again jump ahead in time, accompanying an older and mellower Penric as he travels across the sea to the nation of Cedonia where he will attempt to carry out a secret mission on behalf of his employer, the Duke of Adria.
But despite traveling under a false name, Penric is immediately arrested upon his arrival and thrown into a dungeon to await execution. Soon, he discovers that something similar had also happened to General Arisaydia, the contact he was supposed to meet. Although the general was eventually released, the punishment he endured during his imprisonment left him blinded and forever incapacitated, unable to perform his military duties. Somehow, the truth of Penric’s purpose in Cedonia has gotten out, and someone is clearly going to great lengths to prevent him and Arisaydia from ever meeting.
Not to be deterred, the ever resourceful Penric manages to evade death in the dungeons with the help of Desdemona. He then proceeds to track down Arisaydia, whom he finds being cared for Nykis, the general’s widowed sister. Developing a relationship with the latter while attempting to heal the former, Penric becomes entangled in web of danger which culminates in a dramatic and breathless escape from Cedonia.
For those who require a quick refresher on the series thus far, Penric is a former nobleman who became a sorcerer and temple divine following his accidental posession by the demon known as Desdemona. Although Desdemona and her kind are called “demons” in this world, these spirits aren’t considered typically or inherently evil, and most end up being more mischievous and impish than anything. Even a demon as old and powerful as Desdemona is known to partake regularly in good-natured teasing and playful banter, leading to no shortage of entertainment when it comes to the dialogue between her and Penric.
In fact, I’m sure that readers who enjoyed the friendship and lively interplay between the characters in the first two novellas will find even more to delight in with Penric’s Mission. Now thirty years old, our titular protagonist has had a lot more time to get to know Desdemona, and the genuine affection they have for each other is apparent in all their interactions. After all, when you let your literal demons out to talk to your potential romantic interest, that’s what you call trust! Pen and Desdemona’s conversations also reveal a lot more about the world-building, furthering our knowledge of the lore and mythology behind the World of the Five Gods. In addition, our characters’ journey to Cedonia opens up another little corner of the map, introducing us to a new place and culture.
Compared to its predecessors Penric’s Demon and Penric and the Shaman, which were more subdued, this third installment reads more like an action-adventure, complete with a touch of spycraft and a high-risk rescue mission. I daresay fans of the author’s more action-oriented and fast-paced military sci-fi sagas are going to feel right at home. There’s even a thread of romance—not prominent, but still well developed—between Pen and Nykis. Given how some of my favorite fictional couples have been created by Bujold (Cazaril and Betriz, Dag and Fawn), I’m understandably excited to see where she’ll take their relationship. The characters are always the highlight of her stories, so I’m especially intrigued at the possibilities that new POVs like Arisaydia and Nykis can bring to the table.
All in all, Penric’s Mission is another fantastic addition to the Penric and Desdemona sequence. A must read for fans of Bujold and followers of the series.