First of all, this is the fourth book in Ms. Bujold’s Penric and Desdemona series. I was bewildered by the format. It’s a small book, barely 150 pages, 8 chapters, and written in very large type. I wondered if it was a YA novel, but when I read the cover, I saw it was “a fantasy novella.” Why she didn’t consolidate the six stories into two normal-sized novels, I don’t know. Possibly because each story is separate and independent.
Whatever the format, this is typical Lois with lots of interesting characters and exciting adventures. Penric is a unique wizard, inheriting his powers from a wizard who died in his arms in the first book, and an employee of the Bastard God (one of the five gods in this world). Like Dax on Deep Space Nine, Penric contains the memories of many earlier wizards and surgeons through the help of his internal demon, Desdemona, who moves on when her host dies.
Des imbues Pen with magical abilities in exchange for the lives of nearby vermin and bugs. This comes in handy when Penric and his two Cedonian associates, Adelis and Nikys, flee Cedonia and hide in a brothel. Pen offers to rid the establishment of bedbugs and crab lice for room and board for a few days. Penric disguises himself as Mira, one of his predecessors, and spends the night with a Cedonian general (guess that shoots the YA theory) who proposes as they flee.
Of course, this causes great consternation with poor Nikys, Adelis’ sister and potential love of Penric’s life. Adelis, a former Cedonian general, and Nikys pose as Mira’s servants. Penric, in typical over-the-top fashion, not only performs brilliantly as a refined lady, but he also rids the brothel owner of bugs and possibly cures her breast cancer.
This book feels like a respite from the true action. They’ve rescued Adelis in an earlier novella, and he and Nikys go onward in their adventures and relationship in future ones. Still, Ms. Bujold is a wizard demon herself at creating living and breathing characters you want to be part of your family (Des would be cheaper than Raid).
I can hardly wait to start the next novella in this series, and it was a little sad to understand why this was Mira’s last dance..