Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.
Penric and his interactions with the demon Desdemona, who is sharing his mind, have fascinated me from the first novella I read, and their interaction & cooparation are once more at the center of this one.
“I’m not talking to myself.” Just to the voices in my head. All ten of them. Not, [Penric] knew from long experience, a useful thing to mention.
Their story takes place in Bujold’s „Five Gods“ universe and the protagonist Penric is a magician/priest of the Bastard’s order who shares his mind with a magical entity – aka demon – known as Desdemona who has 12 different personalities from previous riders. Through her, he as access to magical powers beyond those of most mortals. But he is also bound by the rules set upon him by the Bastard‘s order, and his special connection to the Bastard himself. By the time this story takes place, Penric and Desdemona have been together for a decade, and are used to working together. That practice makes it just a little easier to survive all the myriad mishaps they encounter. But magic doesn‘t come for free – unless its destructive.
At the beginning, Penric finds himself on a ship approaching Cedonia on a secret mission for his new benefactor the Duke of Adria. But of course things are not what they seem and go wrong from the moment Penric sets foot on land. Penric and Desdemona have to employ quick thinking and quite a bit of magical and other ingenuity to deal with dungeons and falling in love. They have to try to heal the impossible-to-heal – uphill magic all the way – and escape in a daring coach chase across half a country. Several near death experiences and a horse named „Pighead“ complete the obstacles they encounter along their way. And those whom they are ostensibly helping are not always grateful or cooperative.
“Pen,” said Des uneasily. “Nobody steals from the god of justice.”
“Borrows,” he corrected. “I expect my collateral is good here.”
Once again, the reader is treated to a second point of view from a new character – Nikys, sister to the famous general Arisaydia of Cedonia – with or against whom Penric must survive his latest incarnation of troublesome adventures.
The end is satisfying but screaming for a direct continuation with another appearance from Nikys at the same time.