Review: Penric and the Shaman – Hugo 2017 Novella

So far in the novellas we’ve had two stories that felt like novels with parts missing and two stories (with one more to come) that made use of other stories & conventions. With Lois McMasters Bujold’s Penric and the Shaman we hit another style of novella: an episode in a set of stories. By that, I mean a story in which the world and key characters have already been established by the author elsewhere and we get a bit size chunk of story that doesn’t require the same amount of scene setting or character establishment.

Penric and the Shaman is the sequel to Penric’s Demon and are set in Bujold’s Chalion Series/World of the Five Gods. It is a well thought through but otherwise familiar fantasy setting but with a magic system based on the posession of people and spirits. In the previous novella, we met Penric a bright but young nobleman who accidently becomes possessed by an ancient (but largely benign) demon called Desdemona – who had previously been inhabiting an important priestess.

Penric and the Shaman follows a search for a man suspected of murder – the man in question being a shaman, which in this setting is a person who works with animal spirits to gain magical powers. It is a solid and entertaining fantasy tale with enough events and actions to feel like a shorter work.

I felt disappointed that Desdemona was a lesser figure in this story than the previous one but the nature of it was one where Penric had become confident and comfortable with his powers and situation.

Fun, diverting and basically an entertaining story told by a highly competent spinner of tales.



  1. greghullender

    Bujold commented on <a href=""my review of this story. She basically liked it (I gave it five stars, so she didn’t have a lot to complain about) but she felt that Penric had more of an arc than I credited him with, on the grounds that he was struggling to be a Divine–a spiritual counselor–which is a task that Desdemona cannot help him with.

    My concern with Penric in this story is that because his control of Desdemona is total and her power is so great that it’s hard for his part of the narrative to have any suspense at all. Of course it helps that he’s only 1/3 of the story.

    In the subsequent two installments, I think she’s gone a long way to rescue Penric from Mary Sue territory.

    And yet I loved this novella dearly. So much so that I’ve read it twice, and I almost never read anything twice. The ending is very moving, and I’m a sucker for an emotional ending, provided the story earns it.


    • camestrosfelapton

      I didn’t feel Penric had much of an arc at all really. Inglis had an arc and Oswyl had an arc but Penric just got a bit more experienced doing stuff.

      I enjoyed the story – didn’t love it though but I’m more immune to Bujold’s powers 🙂


      • camestrosfelapton

        I should add that I don’t think it is a problem for Penric to not have much of an arc in the story. Like superhero stories and detective stories, it’s nice to have a story in which the central character is competent and does what needs to be done competently and resolves the issues in the story.


  2. Contrarius

    Loved the story — my second favorite Penric story so far, after the first one. And I loved the dog stealing the scraps and then ralfing on page — very doglike!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lurkertype

    I liked it a whole lot. Beginning, middle, and end. Adds to the sequence but doesn’t require prior knowledge. Competent people. Solid, entertaining writing, doggy dog, and ending which was stuck and deserved. It’s been waffling between #1 and #2 for me all year. (panic blob)


      • greghullender

        Now that is dedication! I didn’t care so much for Vellit Boe (I thought the plot was too simple), although the imagery was beautiful. My #1 is still “Every Heart a Doorway,” because the plot and characters are so sophisticated, but Penric is a very close #2.


  4. Lurkertype

    (Oh, I found another cartoon which is apropos to so many things — apparently that’s my job at this blog — and stuck it at the end of the Dragon prediction entry.)


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