An odd coincidence saw me read two books back-to-back—both with the word “prisoner” in the title—by authors who began their novel-publishing career in the 1980s. Both Barbara Hambly and Lois McMaster Bujold have definitely grown as writers in the last four decades, and their recent works can be relied on to provide deep, thought-provoking reads—and deeply entertaining ones, too.
Hambly’s most recent novel, Prisoner of Midnight, is the latest in her atmospheric and chilling early-20th-century vampire mystery/thriller series, the James Asher series. (Which is probably more accurately to be considered the James Asher, Lydia Asher and Don Simon series, at this point.) Set in 1917, Prisoner of Midnight feels as though it could form an elegiac capstone to the series, for it ends with many things (and people) having changed, and with Lydia and her daughter Miranda having reached safe harbour in the USA, in Boston—and deciding to remain there, at least until the war is over.
James and Lydia have long feared that a government would learn about the vampires—and figure out how to compel them to become government-directed weapons. With the Great War in full spate, Lydia learns that someone has discovered a drug that can control a vampire, and used it on Don Simon, the vampire with whom she and James have a long and uncomfortable history. In order to prevent Don Simon from reaching America—and to prevent vampires-as-weapons becoming yet another tool in the bloody war between nations—Lydia takes passage on a steamer to America. There, she must bring to bear everything she’s ever learned about espionage, if she’s going to succeed. Meanwhile, in Paris, James must learn what he can from the Paris vampire nest—and uncover, if he’s able, just how a drug to control a vampire was produced.
Excellently paced, brilliantly characterised, and darkly atmospheric, this is a damn good book. I sincerely recommend it.
The Prisoner of Limnos is the most recent novella in Bujold’s Five Gods continuity, continuing the adventures of Temple sorcerer Penric and his demon, Desdemona. It’s a direct sequel to Mira’s Last Dance, which in turn was a direct sequel to Penric’s Mission.
Penric, having got Nikys and her half-brother General Arisaydia to safety, is called upon to help Nikys rescue her mother, who has been taken hostage by the same political forces who blinded General Arisaydia and stripped him of his honours. Difficulty arises from the fact that Nikys’s mother is being held on an island that only women are permitted to visit, and, of course, from Penric’s desire to court Nikys, and Nikys’s complicated feelings about her affection for a man who also contains a demon and the memories of nine other women.
Bujold’s work is always full of heart, and The Prisoner of Limnos is no different. Witty, gentle, generous, and deeply humane, this is Bujold at the peak of her form. I loved this novella, and I recommend it wholeheartedly. It’s absolutely lovely.
What are you guys reading lately?
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, was published in 2017 by Aqueduct Press. It was a finalist for the 2018 Locus Awards and was nominated for a 2018 Hugo Award in Best Related Work. 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, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, and the Abortion Rights Campaign.