There’s nothing quite so disappointing as not being able to get your hands on a book you really want to read. Due to a peculiar combination of factors, including Barnes & Noble’s approach to (not) selling ebooks outside North America, my personal intense dislike of the .mobi format, and an unaccountable gap in Kobo availability, I’ve had to wait for the Subterranean Press editions of all of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Penric novellas. The third and latest to reach the shelves is Penric’s Mission, and it is utterly fantastic.
The Penric novellas are set in Bujold’s “Five Gods” continuity, in the same world—but a different region—as her The Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls, and The Hallowed Hunt. In Penric’s Mission, Temple sorcerer Penric—now about thirty, and recently cast adrift by the death of his patron, the princess-archdivine of Maartensbridge—and his demon, the composite personality Desdemona, are on a secret mission to Cedonia. Travelling in the guise of a young lawyer, he’s supposed to make contact with the General Arisaydia—who was, apparently, seeking to defect to Penric’s new sponsor, the duke of Adria. But things go horribly wrong before Penric even meets the general: he’s arrested and thrown into prison. Arisaydia too has been arrested—and released, blinded by boiling vinegar, into the custody of his sister Nikys.
Nikys is the second of the novella’s viewpoint characters, and when Penric escapes from durance vile and comes looking for the general, she and he form something of a bond in their determination to see Arisaydia recover as much as possible. But both Penric and the general were set up by Arisaydia’s enemies, and even a Temple sorcerer might have problems when politics are in play.
This is an utterly delightful novella, well worth reading. And I desperately hope that Nikys will become a recurring character, because she’s interesting. Almost as interesting as Desdemona.
And I’m distressed that the Subterranean Press edition of Penric’s Fox (February!) won’t immediately be followed by Mira’s Last Dance and The Prisoner of Limnos.
Speaking of interesting: I’ve recently caught up with Seanan McGuire’s quirky and entertaining InCryptid series. I downed Chaos Choreography (2016), Magic for Nothing (2017) and Tricks for Free (2018) overnight while deeply out of sorts with a cold, and I can confirm they are perfect reading for when one’s brain has ceased all normal function. While I grow less enthusiastic about the repeating thematic elements in most of McGuire’s work, and while my enthusiasm for the particular vein of Americana that McGuire’s mining in some of her work has never been high, Chaos Choreography in particular is a magnificent romp through reality television, talent shows, murder, and snake cults. I was less impressed with the undercover-in-a-circus trials of Magic for Nothing and the faux-Disney theme park environment of Tricks for Free, but I’m old enough to know that just because something’s not wholly my jam doesn’t make it a poor example of its kind.
Magic for Nothing and Tricks for Free introduce and focus on the new viewpoint character in the series, Antimony Price. The youngest of the Price siblings, Antimony’s problems are even worse than those of her elder brother and sister—not only does she have untrained magic, but she ends up going undercover with the Covenant of Saint George, a secret organisation dedicated to the eradication of everything they consider a “monster,” who’re also intent on hunting down and slaughtering Antimony’s entire family.
And that’s before she winds up in a theme park.
There’s a lot going on in McGuire’s InCryptid series, but the individual books make for fast, fun, entertaining reads. Perfect from distracting you from unpleasant bodily fluids and the inability to sleep a night through.
My ability to keep track of new books seems to have gone off the rails somewhere in the last six months. There are so many of them, and more all the time! What are you guys reading—or looking forward to—at the moment?
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, is out now from Aqueduct Press. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.