by Lois McMaster Bujold
Series: Penric and Desdemona #4
Also in this series: Penric’s Mission, Penric's Fox, The Orphans of Raspay
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Publication Date: February 28, 2017
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
In this sequel to the novella “Penric’s Mission”, the injured Penric, a Temple sorcerer and learned divine, tries to guide the betrayed General Arisaydia and his widowed sister Nikys across the last hundred miles of hostile Cedonia to safety in the Duchy of Orbas. In the town of Sosie the fugitive party encounters unexpected delays, and even more unexpected opportunities and hazards, as the courtesan Mira of Adria, one of the ten dead women whose imprints make up the personality of the chaos demon Desdemona, comes to the fore with her own special expertise.
This novella is a direct continuation of Penric’s Mission, and it’s a ridiculously silly and fun romp that reminds me of a mishmash of Shakespearean plays. It’s another enjoyable story in the World of the Five Gods, but one that ends on, I think, a bit of a turning point for Penric.
“In any case,” said Nikys, placating, “our roads lie together till we reach Vilnoc in Orbas. Penric can as well sail home to Adria from there.” Or not…
“Or we all could,” Penric suggested. Yet again.
“Nikys and I are going to Orbas,” said Adelis. “You may go where you please.”
Penric studied his set face, and sighed.
And if neither man—one as stubborn as a stone, the other too supple to be pinned down—would, or even could, change his mind, where would that leave Nikys? No place happy.”
After coming closer to death than he wants to admit, Penric and his traveling companions, general-in-hiding Adelis and his sister Nikys, finally make it to Sosie, near the border of Orbas. Unfortunately, they still need to find some way across the border, and their initial attempt to find shelter for the night at the Temple is thwarted by the dual funerals for the children of two competing families who’ve committed suicide together (sound familiar?). Without revealing too much more of the plot, Penric, in true Penric fashion, is able to find shelter and devise a plan to get them both money and over the border, but it involves disguises, cross-dressing, dueling brothel patrons, and a lovestruck general.
The story is told from the alternating third-person POVs of Nikys and Penric, like the previous book, and I again enjoyed seeing someone else’s view of him. I also enjoyed the glimpse of Mira, who, up til now, hasn’t been featured as much as some of Des’s other previous hosts. It added a lot of levity to what is, overall, a bit of a sad story. Both Nikys and Penric, facing the end of their journey together, are forced to face the question of what they want out of life. Adelis is, hopefully, soon to be head of a new army for the Duke of Orbas, but what will Nikys’ place be? Does Penric have any chance of still securing the general for his own patron, or will he have to finally return home having failed his mission? Does he even want to return “home”?
While I adore Penric and will stridently defend the fact that he’s not merely “fantasy Miles,” there were some definite Miles-ish turns in this one. Ms. Bujold does seem to have a tendency to have her male characters fall in love with women who are completely wrong for them. It’s not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with Nikys – it’s just that she’s used to spending her life relying on one man or the other, so she feels like she lacks the agency or just plain spark you’d expect for someone to be Penric’s equal. The story ends with their relationship on an uncertain note, and I’m honestly not sure if I’m interested in seeing more of it.
Overall, waffling thoughts about unequal relationships aside, I enjoyed this story immensely and am very much looking forward to more Penric and Desdemona in the future!