In the midst of all the chaos of recent events, Penric and the Shaman was a gloriously gentle read. We jump back into Penric's life about four years after the events of Penric's Demon, after he has become comfortable with his place in the world. But when Senior Locator Oswyl asks for the support of a sorcerer in chasing down a dangerous shaman, Penric finds himself setting off on a quest led by the rather disapproving Oswyl into the rural mountains in search of a stolen ghost.
I thought Penric and the Shaman did a nice job unifying the world of The Hallowed Hunt with the rest of the Five Gods stories: we get to see the uneasy interactions between the church of the Five Gods and the nature-worshipping shaman, and the interplay between their two magics. The story itself is told from three perspectives: that of Penric, Oswyl, and also Inglis, the shaman himself. It's a bit slow-paced, and I had a hard time seeing how things could be brought to a conclusion that would fit the mood of the rest of the book, but I found myself satisfied throughout, always able to enjoy the gentle banter and measured pace. I especially loved how it explored the humanity of all the players in the story-- there are no true villains in the book, which makes it a wonderful read if you're feeling stressed and depressed. Last, I love the way this whole series respectfully explores religion. For instance, take one of my favourite quotes:
"For all that we trust the gods, I think we can trust them to know the difference between humor and blasphemy."
~~I received an advanced reader copy of this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Subterranean Press, in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!~~
Cross-posted on Goodreads.
This novella is a curious blend of a murder mystery and a theological tractate. The three main characters – the murderer, the temple policeman chasing after him, and the sorcerer Penric, dispatched by his superiors to help apprehend the murderer – are all good guys. Yes, the murderer too. The entire murder seemed so steeped in mystical shamanic mumbo jumbo that the only clear fact I extracted from the story was that someone was murdered, and the murderer might have had some vague arcane motives for fleeing the scene: hence the chase.
The plot isn’t really that important. What is important is the characters and the theology of the world they live in.
Strangely, Penric, the titular character, has the least time on the page as the POV character. Mostly, the reader is either in the head of the policeman or that of our hapless murderer. Both are nice guys, really, but Penric is the most fascinating of the lot, and Bujold managed to portray him not through his POV but through his conversations with the policeman and the murderer (when he is finally caught).
Penric is a sorcerer. He carries inside his body (or soul or mind, I’m still unclear) a demon. In Bujold’s world, demons are forces of destruction, not inherently good or bad. They grant their human carriers the ability to work magic in exchange for existing in our world.
Unlike most sorcerers, Penric treats his demon like a person. He even named her Desdemona, which is unheard of among sorcerers. He knows that demons need destruction to exist, so wherever he goes, he makes Desdemona destroy pests. No cockroach or lice can survive Penric’s visits. As there is an inexhaustible supply of those, Penric is able to balance the destruction Desdemona wrecks on the blood-sucking parasites to do good stuff with his magic. His goal is to help people, and he helps the poor murderer too: with his advice, with his courage, with his trust.
I loved Penric. His presence and his interactions with Desdemona make this story worth reading. He treats his demon like a friend (actually, he treats everyone like a friend), and she reciprocates, even curbs her destructive tendencies for him. Penric’s humor and his compassion counteract the convoluted theology of the story, which otherwise threatens to suck the plot into the morass of philosophizing.
And unlike most modern literature with its faulty or tragic heroes, Penric is an all-around simple upstanding guy, kind, honorable, and tolerant of others’ flaws. Desdemona got lucky when she found him. He has no visible weaknesses (if you disregard his demon, of course), and I liked it most of all.
Books started: 11 (including the 2 I'm currently reading)
Books finished: 7
Books not finished: 2
Genre: Oh, guess! :P
What progress on Mount TBR? Added a couple of new ones but also finally got the 3 Philip Pullman books off there, so it's not too bad!
Book of the month: Archivist Wasp was a clear winner this month, will definitely look out for more by this author. :)