Review: Penric’s Progress by Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: World of the Five Gods (1.1, 1.2, 1.3) / Penric and Desdemona, (1, 2, 3)
Published by: Baen
ISBN: 1982124296
ISBN 13: 9781982124298
Published: January 2020
Pages: 320
Format reviewed: eVersion from Edelweiss
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended

Okay, so this one is slightly confusing. It collects three novellas that follow Penric, a side character from the novel series World of the Five Gods, so to make things easier I’m going to include the internal chronology and the numbers following will show their order of internal chronology:
– The Hallowed Hunt (World of the Five Gods, #3)
– Penric’s Demon (Penric and Desdemona, #1)
– Penric and the Shaman (Penric and Desdemona, #2)
– Penric’s Fox (Penric and Desdemona, #5)
– Penric’s Mission (Penric and Desdemona, #3)
– Mira’s Last Dance (Penric and Desdemona, #4)
– The Prisoner of Limnos (Penric and Desdemona, #6)
– The Orphans of Raspay (Penric and Desdemona, #7)
– The Curse of Chalion (World of the Five Gods, #1)
– Paladin of Souls (World of the Five Gods, #2)

Penric’s Progress collects Penric’s Demon, and the Shaman, and Fox, making this an excellent entry into the world if you haven’t yet got around to reading this series. Each and all are also standalone however I always recommend reading in internal chronological order; s’just how my mind works (and I’ll never understand how anyone could ever want otherwise? Isn’t it the easiest way to devour books to read them in the order the characters would have lived their lives?)

Back to what the story actually is. Penric is a simple young man; his full title being Lord Penric of kin Jurald, barons of a small stretch of land with not much money left in the purse. The majority of his clothes are hand-me-downs, and as we start his story he is off to be married. Nervous, but glad to be getting to live his own life away from the constant comparisons to his older siblings and the fact there wasn’t enough money to send him to the university which is what he wanted to do with his life, he’s now worrying if he can make his wife-to-be happy. Which is rather sweet.

Along this short journey he comes across a small party of people halted on the main road; one woman lying on the ground having taken ill, and the various people around her being temple guardsmen and from the religious Daughter’s Order, for as the series title gives away, there are five Gods in this story; Mother, Father, Daughter, Son, and the fifth being the Bastard, who is in charge of all things chaotic and disordered.

The woman dies with Pen at her side, trying to give her comfort in her last moments, and it’s here Penric discovers just what chaos the Bastard governs. For the woman was a Temple sorceress; a very senior one, which means she housed a demon, who need a body to ride around in generation to generation. She had been travelling to give her demon on to its planned successor but when she died early, her demon went instead to the nearest suitable person… who in this case, was Penric.

Thus his betrothal is off and he is instead thrown into the life of a sorcerer with his demon (whom he calls Desdemona) who comprises of the memories of the 12 generations who carried her before Penric did. At any time Des can speak with his voice which, at the start, is a bit awkward and hilarious.

As a demon Des’s magic thrives on disorder, which at the least can be things like getting rid of all fleas and ticks in the nearby vicinity (which comes handy on their travels) and to find out what else it can aspire to, well, you’ll just have to read the books for yourself.

The first three novellas cover the early years of Penric’s life, from when he gets Des and manages to be allowed to keep her, to becoming the Princess-Archdivine’s personal sorcerer after his training is complete (which he manages to finish years early, thanks to his demon and the past generations having gone through it multiple times already), and on to travelling with friends he’s made along the way, such as the Shaman mentioned in the second novella’s title.

This is a series that’s hard to put down, fun, full of great characters and interesting heroics, and Penric and Des’s friendship as it grows is lovely to see. She thinks she may be one of the oldest demons in existence and yet still manages to be surprised by the way in which Pen treats her. The dry wit is exactly what I love to read, and the ways in which they use the magic ‘downhill’ can be really clever.

Highly recommended, as are the other four novellas in this series. I’m still yet to read the three novels that make up the other part of this world which I really hope I can get to soon.

Discussion Post: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold

vorkosigan

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is the latest and very last novel in our Vorkosigan Saga Project! This novel follows Cordelia and Oliver Jole — who has previously only been a minor side character — and takes place after Cryoburn, currently serving as the chronological end of the series.

You can read Katharine’s review of Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen here, and Tsana’s review here.

 

Tsana: To me this book is a bittersweet ending to the series. The characters all get happy endings, but it’s not one of my favourites. There’s not enough action or comedy (either would do) for my liking.

 

Katharine: It certainly is a slightly odd addition as one of the more recent books. But it also such a nice balance to have Cordelia’s story at both the start and the end of the series.

 

Tsana:  I agree. It’s nice that Cordelia gets a happy ending and I certainly understand why Cordelia likes her new life, etc but it didn’t make for as exciting reading as most of the other Vorkosigan books. I remember the first time I read it I kept waiting for something “exciting” to happen — by the standards of the series — and so many disasters just utterly failed to come to pass.

 

Katharine: Especially with how much the party was built up, and then described scene by scene… and then while something did happen he was literally able to sit up and watch the fireworks later… but this is jumping ahead by quite a bit… Basically, I agree. But it was still interesting.

 

Tsana: I’m going to list all the things that didn’t happen as soon as the spoiler shield is up. But before we get to that, let’s talk a little bit about Jole. He’s mentioned in passing in some of the other books, but this is the first one in which he’s a main character. Not that there’s anything wrong with introducing a new character in the last book. And his presence does shine a light on events that happened in parallel with a lot of Miles’s stories but which Miles was entirely unaware of.

 

Katharine: Which means now I want to read back in the previous books to see if there were any hints to his importance in Aral and Cordelia’s life.

 

Tsana: He was definitely mentioned a few times as being in places and saying a few words to Miles or whatever. But I barely remember him from The Vor Game, even though that’s the most exciting event from his early career that gets brought up a lot on Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen. Of course, this is partly because we saw events The Vor Game from Miles’s point of view and Jole was hanging out with Aral at the time…

 

Katharine: Ah yes, I’ve just re-read that bit. Miles ‘sighed in hopeless jealousy every time he ran across him’. I really like Jole – there’s something about people who are ridiculously capable.

 

Tsana:  Wait, which bit is that from? Why is Miles sighing and jealous of Jole?

 

Katharine: The bit about Jole in The Vor Game. I looked it up to see if there were any hints, and Miles’ sighing is amusing.

 

So Oliver Jole is Admiral, Sergyar Fleet and the other person almost in charge on Sergyar along with Cordelia, who is currently Vicereine. Aral passed away three years ago now and their jobs have kept them both incredibly busy.

 

Tsana: Compared with before Aral’s death, when they weren’t busy at all /sarcasm. But yes, they’ve been busy and sad enough that they haven’t hung out much except for work. Which is a bit of a departure from their lives before Aral’s death.

 

Katharine: Time for spoiler shield?

 

Tsana: Before we get into details, yes. But I think it’s relevant to mention that Cordelia, Aral and Jole were in a polyamorous relationship before Aral went and died on them.

 

<spoiler shield up!>

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Review: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Published by: Baen Books
ISBN 13: 9781625794802
Published: February 2016
Pages: 352
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

This was the first book I got to see released in the series, and how everyone reacted to the surprise there would be another to read – at this point I’d been meaning to read the series for at least a few years. I still regret I wasn’t there for the ride, but also slightly glad I didn’t have to pay for an eARC copy.

Spoilers lie ahead.

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Discussion Post: Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold

vorkosigan

Cryoburn is the latest novel we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project and the second last in our chronological read-through. This novel follows Miles, accompanied by Roic, on Imperial Auditor business, and takes place after Flowers for Vashnoi and before Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen.

You can read Tsana’s review of Cryoburn here, and Katharine’s review here.

Katharine: Welp it’s going to be incredibly hard to discuss the book properly after an ending like that, but I’ll try anyway… Miles is off to Kibou-daini in his role as Imperial Auditor to do what he does best – investigate something strange by shaking things up and seeing what falls out.

Tsana: When we first encounter him, he is drugged and hallucinating and, having escaped his kidnappers, is wandering around in underground catacombs full of cryogenically frozen people/corpses. Which is super creepy, but a staple of life on Kibou-daini.

Katharine: Once he manages to get to the surface he runs into a very kind lizard-person who sneaks him into his home to rest and recuperate. Which is lucky, as Miles’ hallucinations could lead him pretty much anywhere, but in the morning he is safe, and the lizard-person is an 11 year old boy called Jin, who likes to adopt pets. And Miles is quite pet-like when he’s not hyperactively solving cases.

Tsana: It’s also fortunate that Miles is good with children because, once sober, he quickly asuages Jin’s fears around adults taking over and treats Jin respectfully rather than condescendingly like many adults apparently do. Which is an interesting insight into Miles’s personality in a few ways, I thought. On the one hand, it’s easy to dismiss “good with children” because, well, Miles has kids now so he’s had the practice. But on the other hand, I think he’s pretty much always been good with children, we just haven’t had as much chance to see that in other books. The first example that jumps to mind is in Komarr when he first meets Niki (now his stepson) and is perfectly happy bonding with him about jumpships (before he has any ulterior motives to befriend the kid).

Katharine: Spoiler shields up so I can say a thing!

*klaxon klaxon klaxon*

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Review: Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Published by: Baen
ISBN: 1439133948
ISBN 13: 9781439133941
Published: October 2010
Pages: 345
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

A whole book about Cryo-sleep and revival, which has been here and there in crucial parts of the series to be sure, but now it’s all anyone is talking about. This time the planet setting is what one could pretty well call ‘new-Japan’ (especially as their money is nuyen… new-yen, goodness) and with every character given the suffix -san, -domo, -sama, etc it’s pretty clear. And quite well done, really.

Imperial Auditor Miles is there to investigate something there that isn’t quite right – something that Gregor’s (now not so new) wife has brought to his attention, and taking Miles’ personal experience in the business has picked him as the perfect one to despatch. He’s there to attend a conference, possibly shake some things up and see what falls out, when instead he and Roic are separated early on and it all pretty much goes to hell.

The start is a bit odd – partly because Miles has recently had a poor reaction to a drug attempted by his would-be kidnappers, a poorly organised group who are trying to make a point but just exist to royally stuff things up wherever they go. This leaves Miles out in the street hallucinating, where he is lucky adopted by an almost-teenager who loves adopting pets. Miles is small and hardly any different, and flourishes under his care. And then, Miles being Miles, rabbits on with relentless energy as soon as he’s waited out the allergic reaction through the three hundred plus pages through everything – losing his adoptee to the police, reviving the wrong woman but then the right one, capturing and losing kidnappers, and winning over yet another crowd of people to his relentless charms… or whatever it is that Miles’ possesses that allows him to win over people…

Overall the plot is good and doesn’t always go according to plan (Miles is involved after all), but the bits where it doesn’t go according to plan somehow make things easier or more possible, yet felt utterly realistic. Roic is miles ahead now of his previous uncertain and bumbling self – able to gently (or firmly) direct Miles when he’s trying to plan something and possibly not going about it in the best way possible – though still occasionally losing out.

What’s charming in this book is the young boy who has been hurt by so much in this world and just wants to care for his animals and try not to get hurt again. Whether it’s living in hiding in an abandoned building with a slew of people who also don’t want to be found, or refusing to allow himself to think that Miles may be an old lonely eccentric who just might adopt him (and his little sister who also tags along eventually), or then – well, I don’t want to spoil anything, but a certain worker in the consulate was good, and that all seemed very well handled, too.

The way this one ends is of no surprise (I’ve been dreading it happening the last few books…) and it’s handled superbly well. I appreciate the names mentioned where they are… and how they all react to it. Ivan’s last line – and how it includes Miles, is probably my favourite in how it captures the changes ahead. The part where Miles is about to go off script (literally) as he does but then looks at his children, and decides not to possibly for the first time in his life is just… it makes you bite your bottom lip just thinking about it.