A Review of ‘Penric’s Progress’ and ‘Masquerade at Lodi’ by Lois McMaster Bujold

Spoilers Below! You’ve been warned. Also, all reviews are subjective. My opinions are my own. I’m writing this review as an author critiquing another author’s book, in an attempt to improve my own writing.

I was book shopping for the family, when I came across some paperback copies of an anthology of Bujold’s ‘Penric’ series. On a whim (and a desire to complete my collection of the series) I bought them and decided now was the moment for a re-read. I’m starting with ‘Penric’s Demon,’ ‘Penric and the Shaman,’ ‘Penric and the Fox,’ and ‘Masquerade at Lodi.’


BIASES STATED

To put this review/study in proper context, you must know my starting point.

I’m a big Bujold Fan. I’ve read most of the Penric’s books, including all three included in this compilation. I would not be re-reading them now if I wasn’t confident I would be enjoying them.

Also, I am an author who is planning on writing a book staring a character loosely inspired by Penric&Desdemona. So… yeah. I’m biased, in that I enjoy the dynamic of these two characters.


WHAT IS THE TARGET AUDIENCE?

  • This is a good jumping-off point if you’ve never read any Bujold books before. The Penric novellas are nice and short, and well written.
  • Adult, but YA readers can get something out of it (especially the first few novellas when Penric is young.)
  • High Fantasy,
  • Low-Stakes Fantasy (aka Not Epic Fantasy). These books are generally small-scale: murder mysteries, small spying missions, escaping captivity and the like. No Dark Lords, or end of the world stakes involved.
  • Religion as a theme

READER’S EMOTIONAL RESPONSE/ FUN FACTOR

These stories are bite-sized and fun. They are books with serious stakes and plots, but not so serious as to be world-shaking, or world-ending. They are personal stories about mortal foibles- tales of murder and attempted murder, and the sundering of souls and separation from God/gods.

Overall, I give this series’ Emotional Resonance: (5/5 Stars)

(5 Stars= Perfect, 4=Great, 3=Good/Average, 2=Fun but Flawed, 1=Not Recommended)


SIMILAR BOOKS

  • Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson (In terms of having a religious protagonist who’s possessed by a snarky supernatural force)
  • The Kushiel’s Series (In terms of having a similar-feeling setting)

CONCEPT AND EXECUTION

In the forward of ‘Penric’s Progress,’ the author said her goal behind this series was to write a powerful magician as a protagonist. This story was told in the ‘5 Gods’ setting, where to gain magic a magician must be possessed by a demon with a human-like personality. Sorcerer Penric is possessed by ‘Desdemona,’ a demon with the personality of a middle-aged woman. Desdemona isn’t evil, but she is mischievous. She usually gives Penric good advice to solve his problems- both emotional problems and magical.

I like this concept. Penric is an earnest, scholarly young man who constantly has Desdemona’s snarky and bawdy commentary going on in the back of his head. This is a great, hilarious conceit, and works a lot of the time.


Penric’s Demon

This was my least favorite of the four novellas I’ll be reviewing today, not for any problem in the book itself, but because the author set out to accomplish too much in it. It was both the origin story of Penric and an attempted murder story. I personally felt that the two weren’t very well integrated.

I will say that I like the introduction of Desdemona in this story. She comes off as being a mischievous spirit in this, like a petulant child who doesn’t want to do her homework but instead wants to go on adventures. She urges Penric to relax and have fun, even if he has responsibilities. I really like this dynamic- she’s not so much the devil on his shoulder, but the mischievous djinn on his shoulder, or the Sidhe Faerie on his shoulder.


Penric and the Shaman

This is ranked 3rd of these three novellas. I liked how this book felt like a sequel to ‘The Hallowed Hunt.’ The author took the magic system described in that book and applied it to a murder mystery… or rather, a soul-kidnapping. I think I enjoyed this more in part because I recently re-read ‘Hunt.’ I’m not sure I’d enjoy it as much if I hadn’t read it as recently as I have.

This novella was unique in that it had multiple POV characters. I liked that the author tried something new here, giving the kidnapper and the ‘police’ officer pursuing the kidnapper viewpoints.


Penric’s Fox

This was a fun little mystery story- and it was an actually good mystery too. The author wove in the magic system, the gods and the mechanics of demon magic into a murder mystery. Further, the characters in this were well done.


Masquerade at Lodi

This was my favorite of these four novellas. It was also the only one of these four I haven’t read before.

I liked the faux-Venice setting of Lodi, and the celebration of Carnival (aka Bastard’s Day). This was a really neat story of the protag wandering around Lodi, looking for a rogue demon sorcerer. I liked the characters, and the twist in the almost-murder mystery. I especially like the side character of the Bastard’s Saint, and how Penric unintentionally encouraged her to stand up for herself.


LESSONS LEARNED

  • Writing episodic novellas is a good format for gradually investing audience interest in a character. The first time I read a penric book years ago, I didn’t much care for him. But after reading 6 novellas about him, he’s one of my favorites.

SUMMARY

This is good. You should read it.


Goodreads

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


Did you like this critique/review? Here are some more:

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  2. A Critique of ‘Absynthe’ by Brendan P. Bellencourt (AKA Bradley P. Beaulieu)
  3. Studying ‘The Hallowed Hunt’ by Lois McMaster Bujold
  4. A Review of ‘Blood of the Chosen’ by Django Wexler
  5. A Critique of ‘Cordelia’s Honor’ by Lois McMaster Bujold
  6. A Study of ‘Dragon Mage’ by M. L. Spencer
  7. A Critique of ‘Empire of the Vampire’ by Jay Kristoff
  8. A Review of ‘Red Rising’ by Pierce Browngon Mage’ by M. L. Spencer
  9. A Critique of ‘Empire of the Vampire’ by Jay Kristoff
  10. A Review of ‘Red Rising’ by Pierce Brown
  11. A Critique of ‘Sharpe’s Tiger’ by Bernard Cromwell
  12. A Review of ‘Fires of Vengeance’ by Evan Winter
  13. A Critique/Review of ‘The Song of the Shattered Sands’ series by Bradley P. BeaulieuA Critique of ‘When Jackals Storm the Walls’ By Bradley P Beaulieu
  14. A Critique of ‘Assassin’s Apprentice’ by Robin Hobb

And The Rest of My In Depth Reviews

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