Lois McMaster Bujold’s Penric and the Shaman is set four years after the events of Penric’s Demon. In the first novella, Penric had to flail his way through an utterly unfamiliar situation; in this one, he has absorbed as much training as the temple can cram into his head in four years 1. Because he has a well-educated demon sharing his head, he has learned a LOT.
Good for Penric, because this time round, we’re treated to a police procedural rather than a coming-of-age story.
Penric’s sorcerous abilities make him potentially invaluable in the search for a suspected murderer. Senior Locator Oswyl can track the fugitive, but what he cannot do (as Penric and his demon Desdemona can) is sense magic. Fugitive Inglis is a junior member of a restored order of shamans. His spiritual magic is very different from Penric’s physical magic, but Penric and Desdemona can cope. Dealing with a mind-controlling adept like Inglis is definitely out of Oswyl’s pay grade.
The case may be more complicated than a simple murder. In the world of the Five Gods, the souls of the dead are almost invariably collected by one of the gods (as signaled by one of five dedicated animals). Victim Tollin’s soul was ignored by all the animals; it was not collected. Oswyl believes that Inglis has stolen Tollin’s soul. Which might make Inglis a Big Bad.
This isn’t really a whodunit so much as a whydunit and howdunit. Bujold tells her story both from Penric’s perspective as well as Inglis’, but doles out her clues parsimoniously. We must read the entire story to learn exactly what happened and how it can be fixed. Penric, wiser than his years thanks to his demon, eventually helps Inglis put events into a different perspective, one that allows a surprisingly happy ending.
This was an amiable little mystery, driven more by Penric’s desire to help people than a cop’s fanatical drive to see justice done no matter the cost. It’s an interesting mode 2. Readers expecting a more American narrative of grim, face-punching justice may find this story just a little too warm and cuddly. But if you’ve had an otherwise crappy week and are looking for a pleasant diversion, consider this.
Penric and the Shaman is available from Kindle.
1: Why Bujold skipped over Penric’s training seems clear … and yet, is it possible there’s a story in there? A story about a young magician, sorcerer or wizard being educated? Perhaps in the company of other young mages? Interesting idea. Someone could do something with that.
2: It makes me wonder if perhaps there’s room for a series about a mystery-solving parson, either in the modern era or perhaps in the same general period as the Reconquista Spain that inspired the Five God’s setting. Maybe set in England rather than fantasy-Spain, since mystery readers are used to British villages that feature a never-ending tide of violent death? But perhaps such a character would be a little far-fetched