Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold

Rating

Review

*** This review originally appeared on Out of this World Reviews. ***

Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold is the second novella in the Penric and Desdemona series featuring the symbiotic pair of the same name. In Bujold’s world, demons are ethereal creatures, unable to remain stable in our world without a host to serve as a sort of anchor. Penric and Desdemona found themselves joined together after circumstances brought them together in the first book in the series, Penric’s Demon, which I reviewed not too long ago. At the end of the first book, Penric found himself enrolled in sorcerer’s school. This second book skips over all of that, taking place some four years later. This is actually good since, let’s face it, apprentices learning to become full-fledged sorcerers has been done a few times already.

In the service of a princess, Penric, now a sorcerer—albeit a young one whose stature was gotten more from Desdemona’s vast experience more so than his own—is asked to accompany a Locator, a person who can detect the presence of magic. Together the two are charged with hunting down a renegade shaman wanted for murder.

It’s a fairly interesting plot to which we’re introduced via Bujold’s always inviting style of writing. Bujold doesn’t waste a lot of time with exposition or flowery wording; you’re going to get lots of good storytelling and a plot that moves along at a steady pace. I’ll admit to some favoritism; Bujold’s Sharing Knife series remains one of my all-time favorite fantasy series. But, back to Penric and the Shaman, as one might expect, things are not as simple as tracking down a shaman wanted for murder. Penric will have plenty of opportunities to test his sorcery while attempting to find a balance between justice and levity.

I’m giving Penric and the Shaman three rockets because it’s a solid story with a few twists, but doesn’t go as deep as I would have liked due to its relatively short length (about 160 pages). Still, it’s a good addition to the series and I’ve already started reading the next book in the series, Penric’s Fox.

Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold

Rating

Review

*** This review originally appeared on Out of this World Reviews. ***

Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold is the first in a series about Penric and the demon, Desdemona. The novella is short (as befits a novella), coming in at 109 pages, making it a fairly quick read with a fairly linear storyline. It’s somewhat of a classic fantasy read, set in a world and with many characters whom we only get to know cursorily. Still, the magic, the setting, and the demons are all interesting in their own way; I want to continue with the series, in other words.

At the onset, we find Penric on his way to his wedding. As a minor noble, Penric finds himself matched with a better lady than he’d hoped, and he’s looking forward to the union. On the way, however, he stops to come to the aid of a fallen elderly woman, not knowing that she is in actuality a powerful sorceress and a host to a likewise powerful demon. As one might imagine, Penric’s life becomes entangled with that of the demon in such a way that the two become inseparable.

Penric is a likeable enough fellow. He’s not exactly the most heroic character, but he also doesn’t shy away from doing the right thing. Desdemona is a bit of a mystery and an intriguing one at that. She’s very old, very powerful, and very motherly when it comes to Penric. Or maybe she’s more like an older sister. Regardless, she becomes a tutor of sorts to him, imbuing him with her experience and knowledge, both of which come in handy when Penric needs to get himself out of a jam.

I’m giving Penric’s Demon three rockets because it’s a fun, fast, enjoyable read, and I’m looking forward to reading on in the series.

Horizon by Lois McMaster Bujold

Last month, I received all four of Bujold's Sharing Knife books from EOS. Their original call for advanced readers was for book four in the series, Horizon, due out January 27, 2009. But they sweetened the offer by throwing in books one through three. I jumped on it, promising to review not just Horizon, but all four books. As promised, here is the fourth and last of those reviews.

Horizon is the fourth and final book of Bujold's Sharing Knife series. In it, we find our heroes, Dag and Fawn Bluefield, returning north with the intention of settling a place of their own. Dag, already a veteran Lakewalker patroller, has become more than that now: medicine-maker, groundsetter, husband, father/brother figure, and all-around leader to a small conclave of Lakewalkers and farmers. Dag wants for simple things, but his life is anything but simple. As he and Fawn and a myriad of others travel north, they come face-to-face with Dag's worst nightmare: a malice that has grown unchecked and become very powerful as a result.

The Sharing Knife is, by it's very definition, about sacrifice. Dag sacrifices his usual way of life as a Lakewalker. Fawn sacrifices the stability of the life of a farmer to be with him. Others cross paths with Lakewalkers and farmers alike throughout the series and oftentimes come away missing something. A sharing knife itself is a medium of sacrifice, for it is imbued with the 'death' of a Lakewalker individual, and is the only weapon that can slay a malice.

Horizon is very much a continuation (and conclusion) of the series. The story itself comes full circle in more ways than one as Dag and Fawn return north and, in inadvertent fashion, complete the quest most dear to Dag's heart: to seal the rift between farmer and Lakewalker and unite them against the common threat of malice. Perhaps the best thing about Horizon is the way in which this happens. I won't give anything away, but suffice to say Dag spends much of the first three books planting seeds which only spring forth in this final volume.

I've said this before, but it bears mentioning again: the four books read as one. The style, the flow of the various plotlines; one can easily imagine Bujold having written the series in one long, continuous sitting. The writing is consistently excellent, with characters true to form and dialog spot on. This is not an action-packed thriller, yet Bujold has an excellent sense of moving the story along. I never felt like she was spinning me in circles or going down a path that had no relevance to the overall story. It's just great storytelling.

I don't assign ratings to the books I review. If I did, though, I'd give Horizon and the overall Sharing Knife series 5 out of 5 stars. It really is an enjoyable read, with interesting characters, hints of suspense in all the right places, and a world that is believable and engaging. The 'magic system' is fresh and original, and not overdone in any sense. I'd recommend picking up a copy and giving it a read.

Passage by Lois McMaster Bujold

Last month, I received all four of Bujold's Sharing Knife books from EOS. Their original call for advanced readers was for book four in the series, Horizon, due out January 27, 2009. But they sweetened the offer by throwing in books one through three. I jumped on it, promising to review not just Horizon, but all four books. As promised, here is the third of those reviews.

Passage is the third book in Bujold's Sharing Knife series. It is a continuation of the story begun in Beguilement and Legacy. In Legacy, Dag and Fawn come face-to-face with the bigotry of Dag's Lakewalker clan. Near driven out, Dag chooses to leave instead. But he does so with a mission in mind: to heal the rift between Lakewalker and farmer.

On one level this mission of Dag's is a personal one: acceptance of each of the peoples amongst the other would grant his marriage a greater acceptance. On another level it is a matter of long term survival for all. Because there is little communication between Lakewalker and farmer, the scourge of their land, called malices, could potentially run rampant someday because farmers remain ignorant of the early warning signs. It is with the intention of educating farmers of the malice danger that Dag sets out from his home with his wife, Fawn.

They hire themselves out to a flatboat boss, Berry, and Dag begins his journey of farmer healing and enlightenment. They are joined by two other Lakewalkers and a motley lot of farmers/riverboat-types who are drawn to Dag and Fawn's mission in their own individual ways. Much of the story focuses on this personal quest of Dag's and how, in the process, he also develops his 'ground' (magic) to a level not hereto seen in the world.

That bears some explanation: in Lakewalker society an individual is chosen early on for a specific vocation based upon the promise of their ground. Such vocations include patroller, medicine-maker, ground-setter. The principal responsibility of the Lakewalkers is patrolling the lands in search of malice; most Lakewalkers are selected as patrollers. But some others who demonstrate a greater degree of 'groundsense' may become medicine-makers or, even further, ground-setters, able to manipulate almost any material. Dag has already spent most of his life as a patroller by the time we meet him in Beguilement. In Passage, he begins to experiment with his groundsense and, aided by Fawn's knack for seeing things from her own unique perspective, finds that he has the ability to bridge the gap between patroller, medicine-maker, and ground-setter.

Passage is a good book. It's well-written, flows evenly, and possesses a myriad of interesting yet believable characters. But it also stumbles a bit in its singular purpose. Dag's quest is fun to follow, but it becomes too much of the story or, really, the entire story. Not until the end, when Dag must face a renegade Lakewalker and the mayhem he's caused, does the storyline break away into new territory. In short, I felt Passage would have benefited from a bit more going on. There is some mystery in the form of Boatboss Berry, whose family has disappeared somewhere downriver, but it's not enough.

In summary, Bujold doesn't disappoint in once again delivering a folksy tale with plenty of interesting and intriguing characters and magic. In the end, though, Passage could have used an injection of something more. Regardless, I'm looking forward to the conclusion of Dag and Fawn's journey in book four, Horizon.

Legacy by Lois McMaster Bujold

Last month, I received all four of Bujold's Sharing Knife books from EOS. Their original call for advanced readers was for book four in the series, Horizon, due out January 27, 2009. But they sweetened the offer by throwing in books one through three. I jumped on it, promising to review not just Horizon, but all four books. As promised, here is the second of those reviews.

Legacy is the second book in Bujold's Sharing Knife series. To say it is the continuation of the story begun in book one, Beguilement, is an understatement, for Legacy picks up exactly where Beguilement left off. One might imagine the author having written both books at the same time as one giant volume, then chopping them in two when it came time for publication.

That being said, Legacy is, in fact, a semi-conclusion to events set in motion in book one. Dag and Fawn, married now, set out to return to Dag's Lakewalker camp where they hope to settle into the typical life of a Lakewalker married couple. The reader is given the feeling through Dag that things aren't going to be that simple. In Lakewalker eyes, farmers are not exactly inferior, but certainly not equals. Precedent as well as tradition dictate the two peoples remain separate, for it is believed that long ago Lakewalker sorcerers ruled common folk as lords. But bad things happened, and the modern day scourge of malice was the result. Now, Lakewalkers spend their days searching for malice uprisings, all the while recognizing that it was their doing that created them in the first place.

Dag and Fawn are not greeted with open arms. Just when things seem at their worst for our duo, the camp is presented with the distraction of a particularly bad malice uprising very nearly under a farmer village (a malice feeds best from children, so 'coming up' in such a place presents a bounty for the malice to feed from and grow in power). Dag is selected to lead the war party, and domestic disaster is averted, or is it? I will leave it up to you to find out for yourself.

In many ways Legacy is very much like Beguilement. The writing flows identically; you can tell Bujold wrote them both in one sitting (figuratively speaking, of course). The dilemmas as well, for while Dag and Fawn had to contest Fawn's family and their own traditions, so must they face similar challenges with Dag's Lakewalker brethren. The story also moves along at a fairly even pace. Don't expect a lot of grab you by the seat of your pants action or suspense. There are some gripping moments as the Lakewalker hunting party closes in on the malice and then has to deal with the subsequent fallout, but those moments are short. Mostly, Legacy is a romance about the veteran Lakewalker, Dag, and his farmer bride, Fawn, and the challenges such a union must overcome.

Personally, I'm enjoying the series. The writing is excellent and has a certain 'folksy' mannerism about it that just works. Dag is an interesting character, especially as he begins to discover a whole new side to his sorcery, and one can't but help feel for Fawn as she attempts to make nice with her unappreciative mother-in-law.

Legacy is a fine demonstration of impressive writing, world-building, and characters. In other words, it’s a must-read.