Reviews

Review: THE TETHERED MAGE (Swords and Fire #1), by Melissa Caruso

I received this novel from Orbit Books through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

Lately I have been particularly lucky when choosing debut novels to read, and The Tethered Mage was one such great find: the story is set in what looks like an alternate version of 18th Century Venice, with the city of Raverra and its canals and waterways as the playing field; my past visits to the real Venice helped me to see the city being described here, adding to the enjoyment of a well-painted background. Raverra has extended its influence over the surrounding countries, particularly the neighboring city of Ardence, whose restless nobility feels the ever-increasing need for more independence, the fires of freedom further kindled by the powerful realm of Vaskandar whose ambitions are equal only to its ruthlessness. Raverra, however, has been able to maintain its standing thanks to the strong politics of its Council and ruling Doge and to its ability to exploit the magic of gifted individuals.

And it’s indeed with the magic system that this novel forges an interesting path, because the rare and precious mages that are Raverra’s strength and deterrent are carefully screened since infancy for the tell-tale colored ring around their irises, and once discovered are corralled to the island enclave of the Mews, where their powers are harnessed through a bracelet called jess. The jess tethers each mage (or Falcon) to their handler the Falconer, in a partnership that only death can dissolve: according to a person’s point of view, such an arrangement can be seen either as slavery or symbiosis and that is one of the story’s main themes, the ethics of channeling useful or potentially dangerous abilities by effectively placing a gifted person under life-long tutelage.

Zaira is a formidable and quite unique fire mage, the most dangerous kind, and she’s been able to move under the Falconers’ radar for a long time until she’s forced to unleash her powers in self-defense: that’s when Falconer captain Verdi enrolls the help of a young woman to put a jess on Zaira, not knowing that his improvised assistant is Amalia Cornaro, heir to the most powerful woman in the Raverran council. Amalia finds herself saddled with the responsibilities of a Falconer, a duty that clashes with those imposed on her status as The Contessa’s daughter, and what’s more her Falcon deeply resents her both as a Falconer and as a representative of the pampered ruling class.

The dichotomy between these two young women, so very different in origins and character, is one of the supporting themes in The Tethered Mage and makes for a very interesting journey in which both of them have a great deal to discover by getting to know each other, overcoming diffidence and prejudices: the trope of very different people thrown together by fate and having to learn how to cooperate is one I’ve always found interesting, and in this case I appreciated it even more because it avoided the clichéd pitfall of the man/woman pairing that turns from hate to love. By linking these two girls and having them cooperate through a crisis, we learn more about the society they live in and at the same time we get to know and like them as characters – with the added bonus that the increased understanding of each other does not change who they basically are but more simply the way they perceive their counterpart.

I found Zaira to be the most fascinating of the two – not least because there is so much about her that is barely glimpsed, leaving a great deal of mystery about her past: she’s strongly independent, although the choice of keeping apart from others stems from some dark, dramatic roots, and she’s also brash and outspoken, and quite proud of that – to the point that contact with the higher strata of society fails to compel her to soften that approach, with quite amusing results. On the other hand Amalia, despite being the first-person narrator, comes across as slightly less interesting because of the shades of predictability that weigh on her character: if I liked the fact that she’s what we would nowadays call a “nerd”, due to her preference to magical and technical studies over politics or fancy parties, I felt that part of her journey was overshadowed by the required romantic entanglement and her role as the problem-solving heroine.

What makes Amalia stand out, however, is the relationship with her formidable mother: the two women are often in disagreement over Amalia’s life choices and her mother’s need to groom her as a successor, but instead of taking the path of all-out conflict they bridge their differences through mutual respect and a deep love that comes across quite strongly even if it remains mostly unexpressed. If anything, this novel is a showcase for strong female characters that know how to work with difficult situations and overcome many obstacles: as I said, Amalia is less effective in this field if compared with her mother or Zaira (or the Contessa’s right-hand helper Ciardha, a character I hope will get more narrative space in the next novels, because she’s beyond intriguing), but her willingness to put herself to the test and not give up, even in the face of unsurmountable odds, more than makes up for that.

Apart from the characters’ journey, The Tethered Mage is enriched by the fascinating power plays that constitute its backbone, a complicated dance of political expediency, back-room plotting and outright betrayals that speed up the pace in the second half of the novel and that kept me glued to the pages until I reached the resolution. And if the “bad guys” sometimes feel a little over the top (especially when they tend to explain their dastardly plot to a soon-to-be-killed-captive, as in the oldest narrative tradition), or if their identity is too easily gleaned, the story is so exciting that it’s not difficult to put the Inner Critic to sleep so that we can lay back and enjoy the adventure, one that I will be happy to follow in the next installments.

 

My Rating:

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Reviews

PLANETARY AWARDS 2017

It’s again time to vote for the Planetary Awards, the chance to nominate your favorite novel and shorter story for last year.

 

 

The contest is promoted by PLANETARY DEFENSE COMMAND and you can go HERE and learn how to list and promote your “darlings” – which is quite easy on the technical side, and not so easy where the actual choice is concerned.

I discovered this hard truth by looking at my 5-star reviews for 2017: picking one for the full-length novel was the hardest choice of all, so I started with an elimination process that excluded the authors in my “buy sight unseen” list, for the simple reason that they are all well-known, much acclaimed authors and since this year I had the incredible luck of discovering several amazing debut novels, I wanted to spotlight them, so their authors could get some more visibility.

Not that this made my choice any easier… So I had to resort to the time-honored, if not scientifically sound, method of writing the titles of these novels on pieces of paper, mixing them in a box and picking one with my eyes closed. Then I repeated the process for the shorter works, just to keep feeling… solomonic.

So ((loud drum roll)) I’m very pleased to announce the winners and my nominees for the 2017 Planetary Awards:

     Full Length Novel: AGE OF ASSASSINS, by R. J. Barker

    Short Story or Novella: ACADIE, by Dave Hutchinson

Go and vote for your favorite authors/stories: it’s another way of showing our gratitude for the many wonderful hours we spend immersed in some other world…

My thanks for Planetary Defense Command for hosting the awards!

Reviews

Novella Review: OF THINGS UNKNOWN, by Seanan McGuire

At the back of The Brightest Fell, the eleventh volume in Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series, I found a welcome surprise, a novella set in the same world and tied to the events of the second book, A Local Habitation.  Even though the finer details of that story had become slightly fuzzy with the passage of time, I found myself remembering it all thanks to the author’s dropped hints that brought it all back in no time at all.

The protagonist here is April O’Leary, a very unusual kind of fae: she used to be a Dryad, a tree-dweller, and she had come to be adopted by January O’Leary, the Countess of Tamed Lightning, an equally unusual knowe for fae standards, one where magic and computer technology could exist side by side, enhancing each other in new and peculiar ways.  At the end of A Local Habitation, the death of January had left April as the heir to Tamed Lightning, and as caretaker for the people whose mental/spiritual/whatever energy had been drained from their bodies and electronically stored into a server.

Now, a few years after the facts, a way has been found to restore those people’s vitality to their bodies, through a ritual that, not uncommonly for Tamed Lightning, is part computer programming and part magic, and will require October Daye’s contribution to work.  The only victim not to be restored will be January, April’s adoptive mother, because her body was damaged beyond repair, and both April and January’s widow Li Quin struggle to come to terms with this, while rejoicing for the possibility of bringing back their long-lost friends.

While April and Li Quin battle with their still-fresh grief and the uncertainties about the future, April makes a mind-boggling discovery…

I enjoyed this story quite a bit, both because it represented a sort of… soft exit from October Daye’s world after the end of The Brightest Fell, one of the most intense novels of the series, and also because it explored April’s character with some added depth: she is quite fascinating, because she is not exactly alive, being a virtual creature who exists in the data streams of Tamed Lightning’s computer banks.  It was the only way for her to survive, after the death of her tree, and this kind of existence has changed April’s outlook in a dramatic way: she thinks like a software, she looks at the world and at people as if they were programs, or strings of code, and this colors both her thought processes and the way she understand people – or tries to.

There is a delightfully fascinating consideration about Toby that showcases April’s way of looking at things and people:

Sir October Daye is a knight errant of the realm. She is an irregular command in the code, a roving antivirus entering compromised systems and repairing what she can before moving on to the next crisis.

I loved it, because it was not only a way to understand what makes April tick, but it also felt so very fitting for October and the way she is. And now the wait for our favorite changeling’s next adventures goes on…

 

My Rating: 

Reviews

Review: INTO THE DROWNING DEEP (Rolling in the Deep #1), by Mira Grant

I received this novel from Orbit Books through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

Readers of this blog know by now that I’m a great fan of author Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant, so it would come as no surprise that I was eager to see what she would do with this new facet of her vast repertoire of creatures that goes from fae and changelings to zombies and onwards to various other fascinating and/or scary beings.  If curiosity was my prime motivator, I was on the other hand slightly worried that this novel might retrace the steps of its prequel novella Rolling in the Deep, and therefore offer little in the way of story or characterization: this being Mira Grant, however, I should not have been concerned, because she not only expanded on the core concept of that first foray into mermaid territory, but she also gave us a gripping, breath-stopping story that kept me on edge until the very end.

Several years before the start of Into the Drowning Deep, the entertainment network Imagine had financed an expedition to the Mariana Trench in search of mermaids, following once more the sensationalist path of Imagine’s usual programming. A small group of scientists and entertainment people had embarked on the Atargatis with the goal of proving the existence of these mythical creatures, and in the end they did find what they were looking for: reality, however turned out to be much worse than any fancy concept, and the ship was later recovered, adrift and empty, save for a few snippets of footage that showed something terrible and incredible – so incredible that it was labelled as a hoax.

As the story starts, Imagine decides to mount a second, more well-equipped expedition, with the goal of proving the truth of that much-reviled footage and to recover the network’s credibility. For a number of the new expedition’s members, however, the voyage will be a way of putting to rest the ghosts of friends or loved ones lost with the Atargatis, or to find revenge for their untimely death.  This is the case for scientist Victoria “Tory” Stewart, whose sister Anne was the media face of that fateful voyage, while Doctor Jillian Toth – who choose at the last moment not to join the previous expedition – wants to find definitive proof of the mermaids’ existence and somehow assuage her guilt over the tragedy that befell the unlucky ship.  Aboard the Melusine, a state of the art sailing vessel equipped with the latest in scientific research and protection against eventual attacks, Imagine has collected various teams of scientist, a group of security guards for their safety, and a husband-and-wife team of professional hunters, creating a quite volatile mix of personalities that promises from the start to make this venture into the deep ocean a difficult one, even without the dangers posed by the creatures in the found footage.

Thanks to my knowledge of what happened aboard the Atargatis, my sense of impending doom started immediately and was not improved by some of the details offered now and then in an almost off-hand manner, like the information about the shielding plates installed to protect Melusine’s passengers from external attacks, shields that fail the test runs effected by the crew.  Being aware of what was coming made the constant bickering between the scientists – competing with each other for visibility and fame – and the difficult relations between them and the hunters, look even more petty and superficial: in this respect Mira Grant gives us a wide range of personalities from both sides of the spectrum, their interactions contributing to the growing feel of disaster on the make that is the backbone of this novel.  And so we get Olivia, the new poster-girl for Imagine, who presents an airy, happy-go-lucky face to the world while hiding both profound insecurities and some unexpected depths of courage that will surface in the direst moments; or Luis, Tory’s friend and science partner, whose support and friendship toward Victoria are indeed a bright light in the overall darkness of the story; or again the abrasive manners of Dr. Toth, who uses her scientific detachment and practical approach as a cover for what looks like a sort of death wish.

The book offers an interesting commentary on humanity as well, on our approach to the strange and uncanny: once the clips from the Atargatis’ tragedy are released, the public at large refuses to believe such evidence, calling it a hoax and blaming the entertainment network for the death of passengers and crew. What does this say about modern audiences, used to special effects and world-wide media coverage? Probably that we have become accustomed to it all and have somehow lost our sense of wonder – and Grant seems to warn us that turning a deaf ear on legends might in the end be our downfall, because nature still has many ways in which to surprise us. Or worse.

The mermaids are indeed the central focus here, not simply a bloody incident, since the author has created for them a whole background that’s in equal parts fascinating and terrifying: where they looked like mindless predators in Rolling in the Deep, here they are shown as part of a complex society, one shaped by the environment in which they live and by the constant hunger that drives their actions. In popular lore mermaids have always been pictured as half fish, half alluring woman, their perceived beauty and lovely songs able to draw unwary sailors to a watery grave; here they appear as nightmarish monsters whose true appearance has been glossed over by a myth that painted them as seductive, conveniently forgetting the “surprisingly sensual mouth brimming with needled teeth”, or the fact that their tantalizing song was nothing else but a very evolved form of mimicry, used to lure the unsuspecting prey.  That was to me the most horrifying side of these creatures, not the fact that they can successfully assault a modern ship and kill its occupants with surprising ease, nor the fact that they feed on humans just as they feed on fish, but that they can imitate a person’s voice, or any noise, with uncanny accuracy, knowing it will bait the trap they are so efficient in laying.

Worse still, the nightmare does not seem to end here, because Into the Rolling Deep leaves a great deal of hanging threads and an open door for a sequel: there is a revelation toward the end that there might be something ever more terrifying lying in wait in the depths of the ocean, something barely perceived but still mind-shattering enough to prompt a character into an almost Lovecraftian exclamation: “The light, the light, oh God the light!”.  Whatever that might be, I look forward to discovering it with the next book(s) in the series, while I will try to remember the warning Mira Grant issues at the end of her Acknowledgements section:

“Watch out for the water. You never know what might be down there”.

I guess I will take my next vacation on very dry land…

 

My Rating: 

Reviews

Review: THE CRIMSON CAMPAIGN (Powder Mage #2), by Brian McClellan

Where Book 1 of the Powder Mage trilogy piqued my interest for its novel take on a fantasy setting, Book 2 literally swept me away transforming me from interested spectator to invested fan of this amazing story that certainly has many surprises still in store for me.

The Crimson Campaign opens just a short while after the events of Promise of Blood, and mostly follows the path of the same three main characters, Field Marshal Tamas, his son Taniel, and Inspector Adamat, but with enormously raised stakes and no time to enjoy the brief respite in the war with Kez brought on by Taniel’s apparent killing of the summoned god Kremisir.

Undaunted by their first defeat, the Kez are mounting a new assault on Adro’s borders and the staggering numbers amassing at the foot of the Adran stronghold at Budwiel convince Tamas that he needs to stage a surprise attack at the enemy’s rear guard. To that end, he moves into their territory, through an underground passage, with two of his best divisions, only to discover himself stranded on hostile ground with no supply train and with the Kez army hot on his heels.

Taniel and his companion Ka-poel, the savage girl gifted with extraordinary magical abilities, lie in a coma after playing their vital part in the vanquishing of Kresimir, and when they finally come out of it, Taniel is much the worse for wear, suffering from the equivalent of PTSD and trying to drown the recurring memories of the encounter with Kresimir through the smoking of mala, this world’s opium-like substance.  Only the news of his father’s failed stratagem and the possibility of his death – a notion that many seem to take for certain – manage to snap him out of drug addiction and despondency,  and bring him to the front line where he will find himself fighting not only the Kez, but the blind hostility of his superiors and the possibility of a traitor in their midst.

Inspector Adamat, for his part, is desperately trying to free his family, that was taken hostage by the craftily cruel Lord Vetas, and he spares himself no danger or injury to reach that goal, gathering some surprising allies along the way and showing us more of Adran society and the way it works as he desperately seeks to break Vetas’ web of evil, whose ramifications seem to go wider and deeper than the mere search for personal power.   This time around I managed to connect better with Adamat’s character, who I previously found interesting but for some reason not very likable: his focus on the frantic search for his loved ones finally shows the man under the policeman’s coat, so to speak, and the lengths he’s ready to go to save them help bring him into sharper focus.   This is a man who gave himself fully to his work, and only through grief and loss has discovered what really matters in life, and that he’s ready to pay any price to keep it – even coming to terms with his until-now unbreakable integrity.

As fascinating as Adamat’s journey is, still the narrative threads concerning Tamas and Taniel remained the most appealing ones for me, although I must acknowledge that this time around I found pacing and plot more evenly balanced and felt no hurry to read through a less-engaging POV to reach the ones I cared most about, since the flow of the story was such that I did not want to rush over anything for fear of missing some important clue.  In this respect, and not this alone, The Crimson Campaign shows a definite improvement over its predecessor and a qualitative boost in all its elements.

In the first installment of this trilogy, Field Marshal Tamas quickly became my favorite character: at times harsh and abrasive, his real nature came into focus through the deep respect and admiration of his subordinates and troops. I could see that he was a man of deep passions that were fiercely curbed by the needs of his position, and what I further learned about him, from the short prequel stories I managed to read, just reinforced my liking of this character. In this second book, however, we see a somewhat different Tamas: he’s still a capable and daring leader, and there is no doubt that the dangerous march through enemy territory would have seen far higher losses without his keen strategic sense, but here we see him besieged by doubts, and by the awareness of impending old age that is not just impairing his physical strength but might also be dulling his ability to react.  If outwardly he’s still the same hard and uncompromising soldier, the one whose name is enough to strike fear in his enemies, Tamas cannot avoid second-guessing himself and wondering if he’s reached the end of his road, and instead of diminishing him, these doubts make him more human and approachable, and in the end an even more enjoyable character.

Taniel is however the one exhibiting the most remarkable changes: in Promise of Blood, where he came across as something of a whiner afflicted by too many daddy issues, I did not like him very much even though I understood where his problems came from.  Having someone like Field Marshal Tamas for a father meant that young Taniel had a difficult model to follow and one whose approval he constantly sought without really getting what he wanted, so the relationship between father and son was often strained and resulted in Taniel developing a strong streak of mulish stubbornness. Here Taniel starts on that same note – worse, he chooses to wallow in a sea of self-pity and despondency that even Ka-poel seems unable to drag him out of, and it takes the news of Tamas’ failed plan and probable death to clear the fog he’s drowning into.  Faced with the unexplainable behavior of the army’s leaders, who keep retreating before the Kez onslaught at the cost of uncountable lives, he tries almost single-handedly to bolster the troops’ courage and his example seems to be working – that is, until he’s arrested and tried for insubordination.   This was one of the most interesting and at the same time frustrating narrative threads of this book, and it helped me to finally look beyond Taniel’s willfulness and to see his determination and capacity for self-sacrifice, something that was previously obscured by other less savory aspects of his character. I also loved how he kept the faith about Tamas’ survival chances, refusing to believe that someone as larger than life as his father could be killed, the prospect of Tamas’ demise having apparently removed any self-imposed deception on Taniel’s feelings, allowing him to acknowledge love and admiration for his father.

Apart from these central figures, others had the chance to grow and gain in depth and detail in The Crimson Campaign, particularly Ka-poel and, in a smaller measure, Vlora.  The former manages to shine despite her inability to speak – or maybe because of it, since she seems to command the reader’s attention every time she’s mentioned – and her strength and determination, tempered by a subtle veneer of humor that the author was able to convey quite clearly, make her stand out despite the relatively small narrative space she enjoys.  Vlora, on the other hand, still moves on the sidelines, and I acknowledge that my desire to see more or her comes from my enjoyment of her role in Sins of Empire, so I can bide my time and wait for better opportunities to get to know her.  And last but not least, I need to mention Olem, Tamas’ bodyguard (another character I greatly appreciated in Sins of Empire and who moves his first steps in this trilogy): I love his laid-back attitude and the kind of relationship he established with Tamas – respectful but not awed, and at times bordering on the kind of insolence that Tamas publicly scoffs at but seems to secretly appreciate.

Do I have any complaints about this book?  Yes, that like its predecessor it ended with several narrative threads still hanging and waiting for their resolution in the third and final book of the series – but it’s a relatively small complaint, because I can move to The Autumn Republic as soon as I want, and learn all that I need to know. Having come late to this series does indeed have its advantages…

 

My Rating: 

Reviews

Review: MOON CALLED (Mercy Thompson #1), by Patricia Briggs

After encountering several favorable mentions about this Urban Fantasy series, I finally decided to see for myself what it was like, though not without a small measure of… trepidation, for want of a better word: my favorite series in this genre is Seanan McGuire’s October Daye, and that’s what sets the standards for me – a main character who’s strong but not superhuman, whose flaws don’t include reckless stupidity, and a story that gains new facets from book to book. Just to name the most important ones…

Well, Mercy Thompson promises to move along these lines, and even if this first volume was not a game changing experience, it piqued my interest enough that I’m willing to follow the protagonist’s journey: with a good number of books to look forward to, there is certainly room for all the improvements I can wish for.

Mercedes “Mercy” Thompson is a car mechanic and a very independent woman, but she’s also something else: a shapeshifter who can take the form of a coyote.  In Patricia Briggs’ version of the world, supernatural creatures have always existed side by side with baseline humans and only in recent times some of them have come out of hiding, albeit with mixed results: once the dust settled, and the wonder wore off, humans resorted to their usual way of dealing with the diverse – they gave free rein to fear, ignorance and bigotry.

 

It was all right for a fae to be an entertainer or a tourist attraction, but […] no one wanted a fae for a teacher, a mechanic, or a neighbor.

 

Those unfortunate enough to have come out in the open had to make themselves scarce, or go live in reservations – out of sight, out of mind. Business as usual on planet Earth…

Among those who did not expose themselves, besides the highest fae, are werewolves and shapeshifters like Mercy, although she’s a pretty rare specimen. Raised by an adoptive family of werewolves, Mercy knows a great deal about their social structures and behavioral patterns, so that she’s in the best position to offer aid to young Mac, a newly-minted teenage werewolf still dealing with his change and with other more pressing problems.

Asking her neighbor Adam, the Alpha wolf of the local pack, to help Mac, brings about a series of events that will put Mercy’s policy of “live and let live” to a serious test: an attack on Adam’s compound and the kidnapping of his teenage daughter Jesse will draw Mercy into a complex situation that will force her to re-evaluate her position and to face some unresolved issues from her past, while she tries to uncover what looks like a dangerous conspiracy.

The world-building in Moon Called is a fascinating one: the nature and pack mentality of the werewolves are explored at length as various characters come into play, and it all flows quite naturally alongside the story without interference from lengthy info-dumps or any slowing of the pace.   These creatures are not the mindless beasts we might have expected because they don’t lose control at each full moon (or at least they don’t once they have grown comfortable into their own… well, skin) but rather draw strength from it – in both human and wolf shape – and always fight to keep a balance between the two sides of their nature.  That fight has given birth to a set of rules that are ruthlessly implemented, because control has become the key to the survival of the species and to insure that their existence remains a secret.

This strict adherence to the rules has unfortunately fostered something of a backward mentality in the werewolves, the kind of mindset that can still be observed in some strata of the human population – through Mercy, the author does enjoy poking some fun at it, even though the smile is somewhat bitter:

 

Women’s liberation hadn’t made much headway in the world of werewolves. A mated female took her pack position from her mate, but unmated females were always lower than males …

OR

A lone wolf is a male who either declines to join a pack or cannot find a pack who will take him in. The females, I might add, are not allowed that option.

 

In this world, Mercy is something of a free agent: not only because of her nature, but mostly because she values her independence, the need to make her own choices. I often wondered if early exposure to the life of a werewolf pack was responsible for this, since she refuses to be cast into any mold, to follow a set of rules that is not her own.  This attitude also colors her sentimental life, which I found quite refreshing: the presence of two attractive, powerful males who are interested in her does not lead – at least in this first novel – to any romantic triangle, and Mercy’s response to the two men’s possessive overtures, no matter how restrained they are, is to re-affirm her self-reliance and self-determination.  My hope is that, should a romantic thread develop in the future, this mindset will remain unchanged.

In short, I did enjoy Moon Called quite a bit: it was a quick, fun read and it managed to engage me even though I realize it was only laying the foundations for a more complex story, one that I expect will expand on the many seeds planted here, from the higher fae (or Gray Lords) urging the lesser ones to come clean while they stayed safely in hiding, to the vampires and their shady goals to werewolves’ politics and power plays.

There are really few criticisms I feel like expressing, namely the overly complex motivations at the roots of the mystery to be solved, which required some lengthy exposition I found slightly tiresome, and the cover art, that in my opinion did not catch at all Mercy’s character, her essence or the nature of the story itself – a look at the covers for the following novels shows that this is a recurring theme, one that seems to draw the attention away from the inner strengths of the character and instead focus it on the… outward ones.

I realize that it’s a matter of market dynamics, but still I can’t avoid thinking that it’s something of a misdirection, and that though it’s not an end-of-the-world issue, it should be addressed now and then.   Ok, getting off the soapbox now…  🙂

My Rating: 

Reviews

Novella Review: PENRIC’S DEMON (Penric and Desdemona #1), by Lois McMaster Bujold

I must thank fellow blogger Mogsy, from Bibliosanctum, for mentioning this series in a post: Bujold is the author of one of my favorite SF sagas, the Vorkosigan Series, but so far I have not been as fortunate when I sampled her fantasy works with The Curse of Chalion.  So, when I heard about this cycle of novellas that promised at least some of the humor I had come to expect from the adventures of Miles Vorkosigan, albeit in a fantasy setting, I did not hesitate to try it out, and it turned out to be a winner.

The main character, Penric, is the younger son of a minor noble, on his way to a neighboring fiefdom for his formal betrothal to that lord’s daughter. While on the road, he and his retinue happen on a group of distressed people: their charge, a priestess of the Bastard god, has fallen suddenly ill and they are seeking help.  Penric, a person of good disposition, kneels near the dying woman and tries to comfort her by holding her hand, not knowing that elder Ruchia is host to a powerful demon who gets transferred to Penric as Ruchia dies.

Being the host of a demon means a huge upheaval in Penric’s life, not because demons are inherently evil, but because now the young man will be able to work magic and as such, for example, he’s not good husband material anymore. While he tries to come to terms with this and the other changes, Penric gets to know his newly acquired demon, who is a mixture of the personalities of all previous hosts (including two animals, by the way): the only thing all these personalities, that survive through the demon as a sort of collection of memories, share is that they were all female, and the fact that Penric is not gives way to a number of humorous – and for him highly embarrassing – situations.

The element that I most enjoyed in this delightful novella is the juxtaposition between Desdemona (the name bestowed on the Demon by Penric, with a gesture that is unheard of and quite appreciated by the recipient) and the young protagonist: the demon’s great store of experiences gathered while moving from body to body and Penric’s essential naiveté make for a great contrast that fuels most of the narrative and helps define his character in a very promising way.

As a beginning to the two unlikely companions’ adventures, Penric’s Demon looks quite promising, and more than worth some further exploration.

 

My Rating: