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Review: Penric’s Progress by Lois McMaster Bujold (Penric and Desdemona #1-3)


ARC received from the publisher (Baen) in exchange for an honest review.

I had a fairly strong suspicion I would like the Penric novellas. The Curse of Chalion is one of my favourite books of all times, a comfort read I reread at least once a year. The new omnibus seemed like the perfect opportunity to try them out and my suspicion has proved correct – I do love them and I very much want more.

Penric, the youngest son of a minor country lord is about to be engaged. On the way to meet his betrothed, he meets an old lady in distress at the side of the road, and as she dies, her demon inexplicably passes onto him, making him a sorcerer. Of course, the marriage arrangement falls apart and he must travel to the Bastard’s Order.

This omnibus is composed out of three novellas in chronological order:

  • Penric’s Demon, the story of how he ended up with Desdemona;
  • Penric and the Shaman, where he’s tasked to find a runaway shaman and solve a murder or two;
  • Penric’s Fox, an investigation into the murder of a sorceress and the search for her demon who ended up stuck in a fox.

And the whole thing is a delight from start to finish. Penric is, in a way, the polar opposite to Cazaril – young, with a very sunny disposition, but equally likable. I feel like cheerful male protagonists who are not really inclined to violence are a bit of a rarity, so this was nice to see. Seeing him nerd over the stuff he learns was adorable. His demon, which he names Desdemona, is older, with several lifetimes of experience, and acts more as his mentor or guide. Their dynamic was great and it was a pleasure to see them learn to work together.

The pacing is relaxed, even slow, the plot is simple, and the stakes are very low and personal. At most a murder mystery, with no kingdom- or world-saving. It’s really just a story of a young man and his demon. Nothing earth-shattering, but executed well and perfect for what it is. It felt practically written for me – slow, personal stories are my favourite kind. It also works far better as an omnibus – I think if I read just one novella, it would have felt too short yet again, but three interconnected ones was just about the perfect amount.

Highly recommended, regardless of whether you read the Chalion books or not – this series takes place in a different timeline, so no prior knowledge of the world is necessary. I’ll definitely be reading the next collection!

Enjoyment: 4.5/5
Execution: 4.5/5

Recommended to: anyone looking for more low-key, personal fantasy with likable characters or an uplifting read
Not recommended to: those looking for something fast-paced or full of action

3 thoughts on “Review: Penric’s Progress by Lois McMaster Bujold (Penric and Desdemona #1-3)”

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