RogerBW's Blog

The Physicians of Vilnoc, Lois McMaster Bujold 15 February 2021

2020 short fantasy novel in the World of the Five Gods (formerly known as Chalion). Penric and the demon Desdemona are called on to look at an unusual illness that's struck the barracks near his home town. Which wouldn't be quite as bad if he hadn't sworn off medicine after it nearly killed him.

As with Orphans, there's very little Nikys (just at the start and end really), but plenty of Desdemona. It seems that we're fated not to get both in the same book.

Ever since Penric's Mission there have been questions about just how he got from prospective physician to former physician, and this volume answers some of them: as a healer, he can't make himself stop, and he burned himself out working on an endless parade of the sickest patients until his own suicide seemed like the only remaining option. Which, as healthy soldiers come down with a fever and blood-clotting failures, seems like a pattern that he can fall into again, as he takes on the job of pumping magical healing into more and more patients.

This time he has some help available, particularly the army doctor Rede, but I found myself not entirely convinced that this time was different enough from the last to have a different outcome. Well, maybe. Some key questions are answered by divine inspiration rather than Penric's own insight, but it's not quite the deus ex machina of Orphans; he's certainly still the hero of this story.

We also get some friendly meetings with other sorcerers and their own demons, not something that can happen often by the world's internal logic but still welcome, and some idea of how peacetime army life works, though it's not laid out in the practical world-building style of some of the earlier books.

Yes, obviously there are possible parallels with real-world events, but that's not what the book is about: even in terms of the action rather than the people, it's about treating the disease and working out how it's spreading rather than about persuading people to be isolated or anything of that sort.

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Previous in series: The Orphans of Raspay | Series: Penric and Desdemona

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