Saturday, June 25, 2016

Penric and the Shaman, by Lois McMaster Bujold

★★★★★ Award-Worthy

(High Fantasy; Five Gods) Young Penric, a powerful but fledgling sorcerer, joins the hunt for a fugitive sorcerer, suspected of killing his own best friend. (37,700 words; Time: 2h:05m)

Recommended By: πŸ†Hugo+2 πŸ‘RHorton.r+1 πŸ‘RSR+2 (Q&A)

"Penric and the Shaman," by , published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Review: 2016.588 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: Three different stories work themselves out in this novella: Penric's, which is merely about solving the mystery, Inglis's, which is about atoning for the damage he did, and Oswyl's, which is about a different sort of atonement. Fittingly, the novella's focus rotates among these three, and that has the advantage that we get to see Penric as others see him.

Penric is after knowledge more than anything, and he finds plenty of that. He's also out to put the world right, which eventually entails releasing the spirits of Scuolla and Tollin and healing the spirits of Inglis and Oswyl.

Inglis recovers his abilities, makes things right for his dead friend, and makes his peace with the Son of Autumn. As Oswyl says, he got off lightly, but there was no injustice done.

Oswyl carries a burden of bitter regret over a girl who perished because he didn't reach her village in time to keep the locals from burning her. For his part in this adventure, he wins release from his guilt.

There are some nice symmetries in the story. For example, Penric and Oswyl are paired because they're both agents of the law, but Penric and Inglis are paired because they both have supernatural powers, while Oswyl and Inglis are paired because they're both suffering from mistakes they made in the past.

The conclusion is deeply moving.

Con: Penric is so powerful that the story never has any suspense.

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5 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. You may be amused to see that Bujold read and liked your review

    Very much liked this as well, certainly up to the standard of the first one. I wasn't expecting the split POVs but your analysis of how they work is spot-on.

  2. Thanks for sharing that! I see she feels that Penric had more of a story arc than I credit him with, on the basis of the fact that he's learning how to be a divine. (Essentially, a spiritual counselor.) I thought about that--it's the one area Desdemona can't help him--but I just didn't see much evidence of it in the story. Did you?

  3. Hmmm, I have to say I didn't particularly note it at the time, but thinking back there's the mini-arc of him being reluctant and hiding his divine status from the village priest in the middle, and later on he does accept it. Fairly low key compared to other arcs in the story though.

    1. He also seems more comfortable with his relationship with the gods after climax which I took to be related to him progressing on that path also.

    2. Agree completely. I reread it about a month ago and Penric's progress toward being comfortable as a religious leader is clearly there when you're looking for it.