by Lois McMaster Bujold
Series: Penric and Desdemona #7
Also in this series: Penric’s Mission, Penric's Fox, Mira's Last Dance
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Publication Date: June 30, 2020
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:
When the ship in which they are traveling is captured by Carpagamon island raiders, Temple sorcerer Penric and his resident demon Desdemona find their life complicated by two young orphans, Lencia and Seuka Corva, far from home and searching for their missing father. Pen and Des will need all their combined talents of mind and magic to unravel the mysteries of the sisters and escape from the pirate stronghold.
Content warnings: View Spoiler »slavery, piracy (including people being killed or injured – off-page), threats of rape (including against children), child characters grieving due to parent’s death « Hide Spoiler
If there’s one author I can depend on to write an absolutely delightful novella, it’s Lois McMaster Bujold. I look forward to her Pen and Des novellas every year, and this one lived up to and exceeded my expectations.
Just once, Pen thought glumly, he’d like to get an answer to prayers, instead of being delivered as one.
Penric is en route back home to Vilnoc (and his wife Nikys) when his ship is captured by pirates. Thrown into a brig with two young girls, he soon comes to the realization that it’s not chance that has him taking the young Lencia and Seuka under his protection – well, whatever protection he and Desdemona can provide without revealing to the superstitious sailors that he’s a Temple sorcerer. Stuck on a pirate island, can Pen and Des find a way to escape before he and the children are separated forever?
“However did you know where to find me?”
“I thought the columns of smoke were a good guide.”
I adore Pen and Des. Their banter is delightful as always, though it seems like the line between Pen and the demon are starting to blur a little more with every novella. While I had some initial reservations toward the pair of girls (I am not a fan of plot moppets) they were as well-drawn as any of Bujold’s characters, and I loved Pen’s interactions with them almost as much as his with Des. While you can always expect some degree of chaos whenever Pen and Des are around, this one in particular was an absolute “delightful outing” – as Des puts it – of an adventure. The gleeful chaos, and the mishaps it engenders, was an absolute high point of the novella. The pacing was fast and suspenseful, so much so that I read the whole thing in one giant blissful gulp. As for cons, perhaps it’s been too long since I read the previous novellas, but I had some difficulty making sense of the geography of the girls’ journey, even with the included map. It’s honestly a rather minor quibble – the important bits about the foursquare Roknari versus Quintarian everybody else were very clear.
“I thought I was the evil sorcerer.”
Lencia shot back, “Yes, but you’re our evil sorcerer.”
In a story that touches on everything from the roots of slavery to theology (because it’s Pen, of course) to motherhood to responsibility, I was surprised and moved to tears by the epilogue. What really moved this into five star territory for me was the deeply thoughtful – and timely – reflection on human kindness, and how the quiet and unnoticed actions of one person can change the world “soul by soul.”
Overall, absolutely excellent, and I’ll be looking forward as always to the next outing for Pen and Des!