Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Penric and Desdemona

Okay! Has everyone read the latest Penric novella by this time? Is it okay to talk about it, with perhaps one or two mild spoilers?

So – better than the last one, imo, but a basically minor novella overall.

The pluses: More fun than endlessly pouring uphill magic into a lot of plague victims and then staggering off to collapse in exhaustion. That is, considerably more fun to read than the Physicians of Vilnoc story, with a fun setting and a lot more chatter from Desdemona. I liked the saint. I liked the parenthood theme, and has anybody else noticed that LMB has hit that theme pretty hard lately? I’m thinking of Knife Children here, which, btw, you should certainly read that story if you haven’t yet. Anyway, the tendency for Bujold to hit that theme recently just struck me a bit when I read this one.

The minuses: I was sorry for the poor demon, who just could not catch a break when it came to hosts. What a sad, um, life, or whatever. I was sorry for the dolphins, too.

The rest of the minuses: So, did everyone else yell, “Come on, Pen!” at multiple moments during this story? I have seldom read any story in my life where the so-called plot twist was so screamingly obvious. Even if Penric did not realize the truth – for some reason – way in advance, what’s Desdemona’s excuse? With all her experience, you’d think she’d twig right off.

Also, without checking the page count, I also got the impression this was a short novella. That may just be the simplicity of the plot compared to some of the other Penric stories.

If I were ranking these novellas … let me see … I believe I would put them in this order, from top to bottom:

  • “Penric’s Demon” — it’s hard to beat the very first one.
  • “Penric’s Mission” — Nikys is such a wonderful character.
  • “The Prisoner of Limnos” — Nikys continues to be wonderful. Lots to like about this novella; plenty of plot twists and great supporting characters.
  • “Penric and the Shaman” — I didn’t care as much for this story the first time I read it, but it’s grown on me since.
  • “The Orphans of Raspay” — good pacing, fun story, plenty of nice details, great ending.
  • “Mira’s Last Dance” — this story bugs me because it seems to re-cast the various memories contained within Desdemona as more like actual personalities than generally seems consistent with the metaphysics of the world. I like lots of things about the story, though.
  • “Penric’s Fox” — I like this story, but it’s always seemed forgettable to me.
  • “Masquerade in Lodi” — exactly like the one above, this is a perfectly nice but minor story. Also, the “plot twist” is astoundingly obvious.
  • “The Physicians of Vilnoc” — as close to boring as a Penric story can get; not nearly enough of Desdemona.

How about it? Agree/disagree about these rankings?

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12 Comments Penric and Desdemona

  1. Pete Mack

    I rate Penric’s Mission a little lower, and Orphans higher. I rate Mira a good bit lower.
    And yeah, the plot of Masque is obvious, but I do like the idea of the pent-up saint taking advantage of an opportunity for a night on the town.

  2. kootch

    I haven’t read the latest Penric and Desdemona and I hope LMB will recover her mojo in future stories. Reading Physicians of Vilnoc made me feel very tired. I love the characters and will keep reading and hoping.

  3. Rachel

    Kootch, I think you will like this story better. There just isn’t much to it. I imagine probably LMB will think of something she actually wants to do with this series and write something with more oomph to it.

  4. Allan Shampine

    I started reading it this morning. I’m not wowed so far. It’s not bad, just coming across as a short piece of inoffensive fluff. I’m wondering if LMB has run out of steam with this series.

  5. Allan Shampine

    I would be delighted with Desdemona as a baby-sitter! Two forces of chaos for the price of one!

  6. Rachel

    I would bet you could take “Desdemona as a baby-sitter” and turn that into a really fun story.

  7. Mike S.

    I had the same reaction to the “mystery”, which approached too closely to Roger Ebert’s classic definition of an idiot plot. “Let me describe in detail for no reason how I had both motive and opportunity.” “No worries. My wily and cynical ancient demon and I see no significance in anything you’ve said.” But I still found the story fun.

  8. Allan Shampine

    Finished it yesterday. Agree with everyone – the plot was paint by numbers at best, but it was amusing fluff, and I enjoyed spending time with the characters. A nice antidote to the prior novella, but also would put it as next to last when ranking the stories.

  9. Allan Shampine

    Mike – I was also struck by Pen and Des’s obliviousness, but I had just read The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher right before it, and the main characters in that novel took obliviousness to new heights. In fact, the author had the characters break the fourth wall a couple of times to comment that in retrospect it may seem like we were complete idiots to miss this, but we were under a lot of stress. I think the beta readers must have told her the characters were being pounded over the head with something and just ignoring it, and felt like she had to justify their obliviousness. Personally, I thought that just made it worse, since the characters repeatedly referred to horror movies and books, this was such a classic trope it just wasn’t credible that they missed it, and having the author effectively say, “yes, I know this seems stupid, but I think it works even if you don’t,” just calls even more attention to it. So the Pen and Des piece looked better by comparison.

  10. Pete Mack

    BLACK DOG KINDA SPOILER

    Speaking of obvious, when will the Black Dogs finally tumble to the similarity between the names Natalia Leushin(a) and Sergei Leushin?

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