RogerBW's Blog

Penric and the Shaman, Lois McMaster Bujold 27 June 2017

2016 fantasy novella in the World of the Five Gods (formerly known as Chalion), second in the Penric sub-series. Now a trained sorcerer, Penric is lent to a detective chasing the murderer of a young nobleman; of course it's more complicated than that.

This series continues to be an observational lesson in fantasy world construction. We learn how many rooms are in someone's house, how the people of the high valleys live in winter, and as always what everyone eats. I think this may be the first time in which I've read a fantasy story involving the passes closing for winter where our heroes don't make the one last trek that everyone thinks is impossible.

With the basics of Penric's situation set up in the previous volume, things can get moving quickly (though the new reader shouldn't feel completely lost), and the viewpoint shifts three ways: between Penric, Inglis the fugitive, and Oswyl the Locator (in what I think is the first time we've seen much of the law-enforcement system in this world). Yes, this is a fantasy murder mystery, which jumps into the head of the assumed perpetrator and still doesn't give away the details of what happened; I've seen many writers try that viewpoint and fail, and successful fantasy/mystery crossovers are rare enough that I forgive Bujold for keeping the mystery itself pretty light.

And there's the excellent treatment of religion (some of the best I've seen in fantasy, which too often falls into the easy options of Evil Bishops and Inquisitions with nothing to offer the actual mass of believers), as well as of efforts to recover shamanic traditions largely stamped out when they were What The Enemy Did during the big war, and which had rarely been written down anyway.

Not enough of Desdemona this time, but there are two splendid dogs, clearly written by someone who's met intelligent dogs and knows how they work. Followed by Penric's Mission.

(This work is eligible for the 2017 Best Novella Hugo Award.)

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