RogerBW's Blog

The Prisoner of Limnos, Lois McMaster Bujold 06 October 2018

2017 short fantasy novel in the World of the Five Gods (formerly known as Chalion). This one follows directly from Penric's Mission and Mira's Last Dance; Penric, and the exiled general Adelis and his widowed sister Nikys whom Penric was escorting, are safely in their new home, but it turns out that Nikys's mother (it's complicated) has been imprisoned in order to get leverage on the general.

That motivation is actually the weakest point, because one simply can't see it working. First, the people who locked her up aren't doing anything about it; the message telling our heroes about it is smuggled from Adelis's former fiancée (from before his exile etc.). When were the bad guys planning to act? Second, if they eventually did do something about it, it couldn't possibly have the desired effect: if they told Adelis something like "come back to be executed and we'll let her go", after what they've already done to him, he couldn't possibly trust them, and he'd probably end up leading an army against them.

Which is unfortunate, but it's only motivation; the point of the book is Penric's and Nikys' journey back into the Empire to rescue Nikys' mother from what in our world would be called a convent, a temple and pilgrimage centre high on a rocky island. And the book is back on form after the slight disappointment of Mira's Last Dance: Nikys finally gets her gumption back, and at long last there's plenty of Desdemona as well as of Penric.

There are also three very interesting new characters, whom I'd like to see more of in future: Nikys' mother, Adelis' fiancée, and her body-servant, a eunuch forcibly "retired" from the Imperial civil service. Perhaps they're all a bit too good to be true, but I do get tired of reading about nasty and broken people all the time and it's pleasant sometimes to meet grown-ups who are capable of working out what might make them happy and then trying to do something about it.

The actual action is almost secondary: yes, there are plans, and some of them go wrong and require improvisation, but the opposition here is basically non-magical and major threats are somewhat lacking. Penric starts to feel quite like Miles Vorkosigan at times, particularly in the reactions he generates in those round him. But none of this is bad; I've read Bujold I wasn't impressed by (the Sharing Knife series), and this isn't it.

I am not aware of any plans for further books, and it would be reasonable to bring the sequence to a close here – though there's an obvious narrative gap between Penric's Fox (when he's just going to start serious study of medicine) and Penric's Mission (when he's burned out on medicine and has been shuffled to a different patron). What exists now comes to roughly 230,000 words, which while it's longer than any of Bujold's novels is well within the tolerances for a single-volume publication.

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