‘Penric’s Demon’ by Lois McMaster Bujold

Spoilers Below! You’ve been warned.

I was in the mood for a quick re-read. I’ve read this novella twice (now three times), and it was pleasant each time. I decided to read this book in particular because I plan on writing a character like Penric/Desdemona in my next book, so I wanted to brush up on what’s possible. Here is my previous review: Penric’s Demon


CHARACTERS AND CHARACTERIZATION:

Good to great. I like how Penric is a surprisingly smart character despite being raised on a farm, able to go verbally toe-to-toe with much older and smarter characters. That said, he still comes off as being massively inexperienced and naive. The dynamic of Penric having the peanut gallery of Desdemona constantly advising him was at moments hilarious.

I liked the concept and execution of Desdemona. Desdemona is the fusion of a dozen different souls, smashed together after many lifetimes. Her snarky attitude and neurotic voice was just a delight.

The other characters were just okay. This was a novella, and Penric was the focus character and NEEDED TONS OF FOCUS, so I find this lacking to be acceptable. Penric absorbed all the narrative attention, and he needed it.

Overall, I give the story’s Characterization a rating of: (A)


PACING AND STRUCTURE

I’m a bit meh about the book’s pacing. It was a bit boring in between the first act twist (Penric and Desdemona meeting) and the third act conflict (Penric almost being murdered).

The structure was very, very tight. It had an excellent, foreshadowed ending and just the perfect amount of fluffy characterization to make the meaty sections of the story resonate all the more. The problem is a low-stakes Act 2 (see my complaint about boring pacing).

Overall, I give the story’s Pacing and Structure: (B)


PLOT

Penric has contracted a demon. He was on his way to his wedding, when he stopped to help a dying temple sorcerer. At the moment of the sorcerer’s death, her demon jumped from her to Penric, turning Penric into a sorcerer. Now Penric has a snarky, ancient demon riding shotgun in his brain.

Penric, being a naive teenager, is both happy to have a sorcerer’s magic but also terrified by having a rather snarky demon providing color commentary about his every action. He experiments with his magic and gains a little insight into the corruptibility of human nature.

Good plot. Nothing fancy, but good. I’d say this felt like a tiny fraction of a Hero’s Journey, the bare beginning of Penric’s adventures. Which… you know… it is. (There are a half dozen other novellas starring Penric and Desdemona, so this is the bare beginning of Penric’s adventures.)

I will say that unlike many fantasy stories, this book is mostly nonviolent. A character does die (the sorcerer) but it was of natural causes, and Penric was nearly murdered, but other than that this is a nonviolent story.

Overall, I give the story’s Plot: (B+)


EVERYTHING ELSE (SETTING, WORLDBUILDING, PROSE AND THEME)

This is set in the World of the 5 Gods, my favorite setting in fantasy. I like the worldbuilding conceit of ‘to gain magic you have to have a snarky demon inhabiting your skull and giving you unwanted and funny advice.’

The prose was clean but pretty, thoroughly inhabiting the medieval setting while not being ostentatiously old fashioned.

Given the demonic nature of the protagonist, the theme of corruption was explored in this novel. People assume that Penric will fall to corruption because of his unwilling passenger. People assume Desdemona is evil, because she’s a demon. Meanwhile the true villains remain unsuspected of villainy because they aren’t obviously demonic or evil. Penric, despite being offered magical power, doesn’t succumb to temptation. Meanwhile those around him are unable to resist the allure of a demon’s power. Good theme work.

I give Everything Else: (A-)


SUMMARY

This is a good, quick novella. It’s somewhat light, but excellently written by one of the masters of the fantasy genre. If you’ve read ‘The Curse of Chalion,’ ‘Paladin of Souls’ or ‘The Hallowed Hunt,’ give Penric a try. The Penric novels take place in the same setting, but are not direct sequels (I think the Penric books happen chronologically a few centuries before any of those three novels). Alternately, if you haven’t read any of those novels, try the Penric books. They’re chronologically first so you can read these first.


STARS:  3.75 OUT OF 5 STARS (5 stars=perfect, 4 Stars=Great, 3 Stars=Good, 2 Stars=Fun but Flawed, 1 Star=Not Recommended)

JUDGEMENT: Good fun. Check it out if you want a light-but-deep read, with a naive but smart protagonist. Good for multiple re-reads. Little combat/action.

Overall Rating: Recommended (How I Rate Books)


Goodreads

Genres/Tagwords: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Demon, 5 gods, chalion, novella

Previous books by the author/in the series I’ve reviewed:

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