Reviews: Bujold, Lois McMaster

Itsy Bitsy Spider

The Prisoner of Limnos — Lois McMaster Bujold
Penric & Desdemona, book 6

2017’s Prisoner of Limnos is the sixth novella in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Penric & Desdemona series. It follows directly on the events of Mira’s Last Dance, which in turn followed directly on the events of Penric’s Mission.

The sorcerer Penric successfully smuggled General Adelis Arisaydia and the general’s half-sister Nikys out of Cedonia to Orbas. Events occurring during this smuggle have upset Nikys, with whom Penric is smitten. Then letters from his superiors arrive, demanding Penric return from his foreign adventures. Penric does what any reasonable person would do in his place: hare off on a side-quest.

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Be My Homeward Dove

Mira’s Last Dance — Lois McMaster Bujold
Penric & Desdemona, book 5

2017’s Mira’s Last Dance is the fifth instalment in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Penric & Desdemona series. The series takes place in the setting of Bujold’s Five Gods novels.

In the previous book, Penric was badly injured in a duel with a Cedonian sorcerer. His symbiotic demon Desdemona was able to keep Penric alive, but Penric and his two human companions, former General Arisaydia and the general’s sister Nikys, have been forced to pause in their flight from Cedonia while Penric heals.

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The Fox is on the Town

Penric’s Fox — Lois McMaster Bujold
Penric & Desdemona, book 3

2017’s Penric’s Fox is the fifth piece published and the third piece by internal chronology in Lois McMaster’s Penric & Desdemona series. The series is set in Bujold’s Five Gods setting.

What should have been a quiet afternoon of fishing and amiable conversation takes an unexpected turn. Penric and his shaman companion Inglis are conscripted to assist an inquirer in a murder investigation.

Murder is always a grave matter. This particular murder is even more disquieting: the dead person is Learned Magal, a sorcerer.

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And Call It a Weasel

A Civil Campaign — Lois McMaster Bujold
Miles Vorkosigan, book 10

A Civil Campaign is almost certainly the 10th volume in the Miles Vorkosigan series, unless you’re one of those people who think that the Cordelia Naismith books are part of the series, in which case this book is the 12th. As far as I am concerned it’s the 10th. It’s reasonable to consider Cordelia’s adventures as prequel, right? Like Ethan of Athos, related but independent?

I don’t know why I get requests at work not to overthink things.

The affair of the Komarran mirror successfully concluded, Imperial Auditor Miles Vorkosigan is back on Barrayar. With no immediate Imperial business demanding his attention, Miles is free to invest all of his intellect and energy on one goal: winning the heart of the recently widowed Ekaterin Vorsoisson.

He has a cunning plan.

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I’ve Just Seen a Face

Komarr — Lois McMaster Bujold
Miles Vorkosigan, book 9

1998’s Komarr is the ninth volume in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan series.

Barrayaran-conquered Komarr depends on its soletta array, which concentrates the feeble output of its sun, for marginal habitability and slowly progressing terraforming. When half the array is wrecked by a colliding spacecraft, it’s up to Imperial Auditor Georg Vorthys to determine whether this was a tragic mishap or deliberate sabotage.

Accompanying Vorthys is the most junior Imperial Auditor, Miles Vorkosigan.

Ahoy! Spoilers ahead!

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Fools To Make War

Brothers in Arms — Lois McMaster Bujold
Miles Vorkosigan, book 4

1989’s Brothers in Arms is the fourth book in the Miles Vorkosigan series.

Admiral Miles Naismith’s Dendarii Mercenaries have a secret advantage; they are subsidized by the planet Barrayar. Naismith is also Miles Vorkosigan, son of Barrayar’s Lord Regent.

Miles and the Dendarii put in at Earth to collect desperately needed funds. The funds should be waiting for them. They are not.

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Just Another Manic Monday

The Vor Game — Lois McMaster Bujold
Miles Vorkosigan, book 2

1990’s The Vor Game is the second of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan novels.

Four years after the events of The Warrior’s Apprentice, Miles graduates from the Academy. Given his personal history and family connections, one might expect him to be given some cushy assignment. Instead he is dispatched to serve as weatherman on Kyril Island, whose isolation is matched only by the region’s unfitness for human habitation.

Still, how much trouble could one fresh graduate get into a place so sparsely peopled as Kyril Island?

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Under Pressure

The Warrior’s Apprentice — Lois McMaster Bujold
Miles Vorkosigan, book 1

1986’s The Warrior’s Apprentice was Lois McMaster Bujold’s first Miles Vorkosigan novel.

Miles was exposed to a lethal gas while still in the womb and his bones did not develop properly. They are short and brittle. He looks odd; he looks like a mutant, which is a bad thing to be on his native world of Barrayar. During Barrayar’s time of isolation from other human-settled worlds, mutants were killed at birth. Modern medicine has better answers, but hatred of muties (and of people who are visibly deformed or disabled) is still ingrained in Barrayaran custom.

Mile must deal with daunting physical limitations. What may be worse is the disdain and even hatred of his fellow Barrayarans, who see his very existence as an affront to all that is right and good.

Miles is an aristocrat; a period (or a lifetime) of military service is customary for Barrayaran aristocrats. Miles wants to be a soldier like his peers. He may lack physical prowess, but he has charm, brains, and cunning. Those sterling qualities are enough to take him to the top in the academic courses at the military academy … but don’t help him pass the final physical test. He breaks both legs on an obstacle course. There will be no Vor military career for Miles. What to do with the rest of his life?

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Something Money Can’t Buy

Barrayar — Lois McMaster Bujold
Cordelia Vorkosigan, book 2

Lois McMaster Bujold’s 1991 Barrayar is the second Cordelia Vorkosigan novel. I am going to put off working out how to number it in the grander Vorkosigan Saga and Vorkosigan Universe sequences in the hope that nobody will notice if I am inconsistent1.

The plan: Barrayaran Aral marries Betan Cordelia; Aral retires from active duty and the couple lives on their country estate, there to enjoy long, happy lives.

The outcome: Emperor Ezar Vorbarra is dying and has one last task for Aral. It is a weighty task that will burden Aral and Cordelia for years to come.

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Like the Trembling Heart of a Captive Bird

Shards of Honor — Lois McMaster Bujold
Cordelia Vorkosigan, book 1

Lois McMaster Bujold’s 1986 debut novel Shards of Honor is the first Cordelia Vorkosigan book, as well as the first novel set in Bujold’s Vorkosiverse.

A Betan exploratory mission has been sent through a newly discovered wormhole; they have discovered a terrestrial world suitable for colonization. Unfortunately for the Betans, they are the second group to discover Sergyar. The Barrayaran militarists were there first and they don’t want company.

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Hear my whispers in the dark

Penric’s Mission — Lois McMaster Bujold
Penric and Desdemona, book 4

Penric’s Mission is the fourth instalment in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Penric and Desdemona series.

Following an ill-fated foray into medicine, demon-haunted, all-round-nice-guy Penric takes up a new occupation: covert agent for the Duke of Adria. As the novel opens, he is travelling into Cedonia, there to contact to recruit a Cedonian general who is believed to be disaffected.

No sooner does he step off the boat than Penric is arrested, beaten, and thrown into prison. Not an auspicious beginning, particularly since his cell is designed to fill with water once his captors have no further use for him. Eventually, they do not.

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The cop, the sorceror, and the shaman

Penric and the Shaman — Lois McMaster Bujold
Penric & Desdemona, book 2

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.

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Whatever Happened to Lady Ista?

Paladin of Souls — Lois McMaster Bujold
Chalion, book 2

One of downsides of having other people pick what I read is that not only do I miss perfectly good books that were assigned to other reviewers, but I am often so busy reading what I must that I don’t have much free time for unassigned reading. I miss good books that way. One of those books was 2003’s Paladin of Souls. This is another novel set in the world of the Five Gods, the world introduced in The Curse of Chalion1. I like Bujold’s work; this was a Hugo-winning work; ergo, this was something I wanted to read. I just never found the time.

Until now….

Finally freed of the Golden General’s curse and the god-touched madness that afflicted her, Ista tires of the boring, custom-bound life of an aristocratic lady. She seizes on the one avenue of escape that is open to her: pilgrimage.

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Return to Chalion

Penric’s Demon — Lois McMaster Bujold
Penric & Desdemona, book 1

Bujold returns to the world of Curse of Chalion in the 2015 novella, Penric’s Demon.

Penric is a lesser son of impoverished bluebloods, a harmless fellow whose greatest value to his family is marital: he can score some much-needed dosh by marrying Prieta, the daughter of a wealthy cheese merchant. This is a pleasant enough prospect. Not only will the marriage restore a measure of financial stability to the House of Jurald, but Prieta is herself a charming armful, someone with whom Penric can easily see himself spending a happy life.

Alas, there will be no curvaceous cheese merchant’s daughter for Penric and no financial windfall for the House of Jurald — Penric is sabotaged by his own good nature.

It begins with a dying woman by the side of the road.

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Finally, a Bujold

Curse of Chalion — Lois McMaster Bujold
Chalion, book 1

Although perhaps best known for her long-running hard SF [1] series, the Vorkosigan novels, Lois Bujold is also a popular writer of fantasy novels. Between 2001 and 2010, Bujold published nine novels; seven of those were fantasies. 2001’s [2] Hugo-nominated Curse of Chalion, the first volume in the eponymous trilogy, was the first of those seven novels.


Throughout his eventful career, former courtier and soldier Cazaril has participated in many diplomatic successes and military victories … although never on the winning side. Having survived the rough hospitality of the Roknari galleys, a ragged, weakened Cazaril makes his way to the town of Valendia. He hopes that his past service for the Dowager Provincara will convince her to grant him some easy position within her household. Not only is he still recovering from his recent tour as a galley-slave, he has powerful enemies and needs to stay as far from the royal court as possible.

He gains an unanticipated and unwanted success; he is appointed secretary-tutor to the headstrong Royesse Iselle. The Provincara hopes that Cazaril’s age and experience will help him temper Iselle’s well-meaning idealism with caution. Unfortunately, his new position, secretary-tutor to a princess in line for the throne, will expose him to the notice, and the malice, of the court. Even before he begins his job proper, Cazaril muses that it might be faster if the Provincara were simply to have his throat cut on the spot. Time and exposure will show that Cazaril was, if anything, too optimistic.

The Royesse Iselle is cursed.

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