Novella Review: Mira’s Last Dance 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: 3.5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 4 of Penric and Desdemona
Publisher: Subterranean Press (June 1, 2018)
Length: 160 pages
Unlike the other novellas in the Penric and Desdemona series which have so far been standalone affairs, Mira’s Last Dance is pretty much a direct sequel to Penric’s Mission. When we last left them, our eponymous hero and the ancient demon riding shotgun in his head were escaping Cedonia, where their clandestine mission of diplomacy went all wrong. Now they are on their way to seek sanctuary in the Duchy of Orbas, and traveling with them are General Arisaydia and his widowed sister Nikys, both exiled from their homeland.
But in the village of Sosie, the group encounters an unexpected hitch, requiring them to seek shelter at a local brothel. Penric is still weak from his injuries sustained in the previous book, but luckily, this is one adventure where Desdemona will be taking over much of the work.
In Lois McMaster Bujold’s World of the Five Gods, demons are actually more like mischievous spirits, and for the most part aren’t considered inherently evil. They possess their human hosts without really taking them over, though they can also be allowed a fair bit of autonomy, as we see in this book. Interestingly, the possession also goes both ways, with the hosts “imprinting” themselves on their demons, giving them some of their knowledge and personalities that they will keep with them forever. Desdemona, being a very old and very powerful demon, has inhabited many bodies, including that of a long dead courtesan known as Mira of Adria. And apparently, Mira was quite skilled in her art.
The story that follows is quite possible the most lighthearted and fun of the Penric and Desdemona novellas that I’ve read up to this point, though this and the fact that Mira’s Last Dance is a follow-up probably makes this one a less “eventful” and consequential book. It also tries to maintain its standalone status, so you don’t get too many details of what happened in Cedonia or why the group is now on the run. As such, even though I’ve read the previous installment, I felt a sense of detachment to the events here and that awkward feeling of sitting down in a theater where the movie playing is already half over.
Still, I enjoyed myself all the same, though admittedly not quite as much as I did with the other books. The characters’ situation and the fact they are feeling from persecution notwithstanding, this installment radiates a sense of merriment and whimsy as Penric gives himself over to Desdemona and lets her handle things her own way. And yes, this involved them channeling the delightful Mira of Adria, which, needless to say, gave way to plenty of humorous scenes to help lighten up the dire circumstances. If nothing else, this book was a nice break and served as a counterbalance to some of the darker, more painful moments from Penric’s Mission.
I also liked that we got to learn more about Desdemona, about what she is and where she might have been before she came to possess Penric. We’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of what we know about her, and this book gave us the chance to dig deeper into this unique relationship between demon and host, as well to explore what this bond means to Penric beyond giving him special sorcerer powers.
Despite the limited scope of the story and the relatively thin plot, Mira’s Last Dance is a novella that’s worth reading, especially if you’re like me and are invested in the Penric and Desdemona series. Even though this one read more like a fun little side trip detouring slightly from the main journey, I’m of the opinion that certain series can benefit greatly from these types of stories because they add a bit of much needed levity. And in this case, I thought Mira’s Last dance filled that role quite nicely.