Penric & Desdemona by Bujold (more stories!)

I wrote a review of the first three stories in Bujold’s Penric & Desdemona series back in November 2016 and then Anna wrote a review of the fourth one in July 2017, but I am here to tell you that the fifth and sixth ones have both come out and they are both awesome!

PenricFoxPenric’s Fox (story #5) is essentially a sequel to Penric and the Shaman (story #3). Although it’s set some years later, it’s the same cast of characters and is set decidedly before the events of story #4. One of the things I really enjoy about Bujold is that she plays around with her genres even in the same series and thus this is a detective story, with a discovered corpse and police investigation and all. It was also kind of heart-wrenching and made me tear up a bit but just so very good.

 

prisonerlimnosPrisoner of Limnos (story #6) is a direct sequel to Mira’s Last Dance (story #4) with barely a few weeks having passed for the characters between the two books and dealing directly with some of the uncertainty left at the end of #4. I was also all geared up for some raciness to it, too, but Anna can be reassured that events stay relatively chaste (even as my mind is in the gutter giving me occasional wink-wink nudge-nudges.) This is something of a heist storyline and also introduces a whole swathe of new secondary characters that seem very interesting and open up all sorts of possibilities for future story lines. While this one doesn’t end in quite the almost-cliff-hanger (emotionally at least) of #4, it does leave me just craving more. I just really need to know more about those new characters and their stories and what they do next. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Bujold continues to write these stories at the amazing pace she’s had so far.

 

Mira’s Last Dance

By Lois McMaster Bujold

Miras_Last_DanceRebecca is a much bigger fan of Lois McMaster Bujold than I am, and she already raved about the first three entries in this series last year, but I’ve jumped in to review the fourth because…whoo, boy.

Before we started this blog together, I don’t think any of us realized how much more prudish I am than either the other reviewers. I get easily embarrassed by reading pretty much anything more explicit than a kiss on the lips, and I very much appreciate just the literary version of a ‘fade to black.’

Which this story actually does! However, the situations that are set up before the polite drawing of the curtain where almost too much for my poor weak sensibilities. This is really a novella with an estimated reading time of a little over an hour, but it took me a full week, with all the breaks I had to take to repose myself.

Now, I’m sure this all sounds very titillating, but before you jump right in, it is not at all a stand-alone book. The four Penric & Desdemona novellas feel more like a single, serialized novel than sequels, and this one picks up from the moment the last one ends. Each one also builds in intrigue (and scandalousness), so the first couple are fun but comparatively decorous.

Penric & Desdemona by Lois McMaster Bujold

 

Apparently Lois McMaster Bujold has decided to retire, which is somewhat dismaying as she has long been one of my favorite authors. On the other hand, what she’s decided to do in her semi-retirement is write novellas instead of novels and semi-self-publish them. (Spectrum Literacy Agency is listed as the publisher rather than a regular publishing house.) They are absolutely delightful and I love them and all three of the novellas that have come out so far have come out in 2016. The stories are available for purchase as Kindle books within weeks of them being written so I can track them on facebook.

These novellas: Penric’s Demon, Penric and the Shaman, and Penric’s Mission (so far), are in the series, Penric & Desdemona, about a young man named Penric who acquires a demon he names Desdemona. In this world the acquisition of a demon is what makes an individual a sorcerer, “much like the acquisition of a horse makes an individual a rider.” The Church, which has oversight of the demons in this world, is not best pleased with the situation. Penric is sweet and adorable and Desdemona is a delight.

The stories are set in Bujold’s world of the five gods. The five gods being the Father, the Mother, the Brother, the Sister, and the Bastard (each of whom are interesting characters in their own right although only appearing for the briefest of scenes.)

I whole-heartedly recommend those books as well, each of which has the interesting aspect of being able to stand alone, although I recommend just going ahead and reading them all, and at least the first two in order.

cursechalion

The Curse of Chalion is the first book and a standard (beautifully done) fantasy novel of adventure and court politics.

paladinsouls

Paladin of Souls is set some years later and shares some characters with The Curse of Challion but mostly through references, and is interesting in its main character being a middle-aged woman, mother and widow, who has had a rough life and is trying to find her place again… with much adventure and court politics.

hallowedhunt

The Hallowed Hunt shares no characters with the other books except for the gods, and is actually set in a whole different country and time period. This one has the most intriguing and heart-breaking villain story arch that I think I’ve ever run across and is amazing, especially since I still love the main characters and want them to succeed.

And then the Penric novella’s come in and it’s only in reading them that I can put together the time line, since they’re set some centuries after The Hallowed Hunt and but some time before The Curse of Challion.

Anyway, I love all of these and think you should read them all, but I mostly needed to just gloat with joy about the three Penric & Desdemona novellas that have already been made available with murmurs of at least two more. Yay! They are wonderful!

 

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen

61ku6qro0cl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen
by Lois McMaster Bujold
2016

Bujold is one of the few authors who I absolutely trust. I enjoy every single thing she has ever written. Some more than others, of course, but everything is good. One of the amazing things about her is that she clearly refuses to let herself or her writing stagnate. She’s constantly exploring new styles and genres.

This is particularly obvious in her Vorkosigan series, which is currently at sixteen books (of which this is the most recent) plus a number of short stories and novellas. They’re all in the same science fiction universe and to a large extent about the same characters and yet they are often written as wildly different genres: light science fiction, hard core science fiction, murder mystery, psychological exploration, comedy of manners…. Bujold has tried it all and succeeded at it all.

Most of the books follow Miles Naismith Vorkosigan in his various adventures around the universe, getting himself into and then out of a variety of troubles. The first two books that I read, however, are about his mother, Cordelia Naismith, before and immediately after having Miles. This book returns to Cordelia, giving an interesting perspective on what has gone on before that Miles just never noticed, but focusing on where she is going now.

In some ways, it’s reminiscent of Memory, the eleventh book in the series, in which Miles, age 30, must confront a drastic change in his life and decide how to deal with it (while investigating shenanigans in the capital city!). Except that this time, it’s Cordelia at 76 who is looking at changing her life while in the center of small town life. Admiral Jole, who has previously been an extremely minor character, is also brought into focus as he is confronted with a crossroads of his own as he is swept up in the changes she is making.

One of the really amazing things about this book is that it reads more as character-driven non-genre literature than science fiction. While it’s set in this science fiction universe, it’s also set in what is essentially a backwater boomtown. There are a large number of moderately eccentric but utterly relatable characters. Our two main characters are both mature adults with successful careers. This isn’t high adventure, it’s living your life and making choices and dealing with other people.

It’s beautiful and I loved it.

Stalking Authors, the Ilona Andrews edition

Magic_RisesPeriodically I like to drop by the websites of my favorite authors to see when their next books are coming out and if they have anything new and interesting up.

Lois McMaster Bujold doesn’t tend to update her website very much, alas. But she does actively support fanfiction, which I appreciate.

Patricia Briggs is pretty good with her website, although she’s gotten somewhat less active on it as her career has taken off.

Ilona Andrews is still very active on social media, including their own website, AND posts regular free stuff.

Robin McKinely has a decent website, although I’m generally somewhat disappointed in her. I love her early work (The Blue Sword, The Hero and the Crown, and Beauty) and feel like Sunshine was her absolute Best Book Ever! Ever since, it’s been just kind of down hill. But I still like to check up on her, periodically, to see if maybe there will be a sequel to Sunshine at some point, or if any of her more recent books look good.

Megan Whalen Turner has possibly the least active author’s website I’ve seen, and yet I still check back because, by god, if there’s going to be another book in series, I will start stalking bookstores and possibly publisher’s warehouses in the hopes of getting to it just that much sooner. (So far, no luck. I will just have to re-read the four that already exist.)

Anyway, this is all a long wind up to letting you guys know that Ilona Andrews has the first chapter of her next book up! This is book 6 is the Kate Daniels series, Magic Rises, due out on July 30, 2013. Yay! You can read the excerpt: HERE!!!

I love this series.

However… the chapter raises some concerns for me.

Thus: Here Be Spoilers (for both Book 5 and for Book 6).

Continue reading

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Bujold

Captain Vorpatril AllianceCaptain Vorpatril’s Alliance
by Lois McMaster Bujold
2012

This is an excellent fast-paced romantic adventure comedy. I sped through it in two days and kept giggling to myself. It just leaps from one ludicrous situation to another and yet, the plot still tracks beautifully. I can see why and how these situations came about, and I can also see why and how these characters managed to get themselves into these situations, even if I want to slap them upside the head for doing some of the things they do.

Interestingly, it takes place prior to Cryoburn, which might explain why Cryoburn made so few references to off-planet events in general, less to avoid spoilers than to avoid a sense of WTF?.

There’s an elopement with the use of a box of instant groats, a 100-year-old buried treasure, a 30-year-old hidden bomb, a handful of beautiful ladies (all of whom are extremely wily), a handful of wily men (many of whom are extremely beautiful), cross cultural laws and smuggling rings and bounty hunters. And, in the middle of all of this, is Ivan Vorpatril, who has, much to his dismay, lots of experience regarding such insanity.

In previous books in this series, Ivan generally gets drawn into his cousin Miles’ crazier plots despite his own efforts to remain an innocent bystander. In this book, though, Miles appears in only a quick cameo, and Ivan manages to get involved in a crazy plot all on his own. The book also develops a few other secondary characters from the series, showing more of Byerly Vorrutyer and Simon Illyan than we’ve gotten previously.

While it’s more than a bit self-indulgent, the book maintains its self-indulgence with aplomb and delivers an immensely fun roller-coaster of a story that I enjoyed immensely.

Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold

Cryoburn
By Lois McMaster Bujold
2010

So I finally got around to reading Cryoburn, which is a ludicrous statement for me to have made. I adore Bujold. I discovered her about fifteen years ago and have read her books ever since. She has three different series, set in three wildly different universes, each of which I love. I have read everything she has ever published and loved them all. She was the first author for whom I actually started purchasing new-released hardcover books and even now is one of only four authors for whom I have done that. So why, then, did it take me nearly two years to read this book, checking it out from the library?

When it was first announced, I was super excited. A few months before it was finally due to be published, the publisher posted the first several chapters online as a teaser and I raced over to read them… and found myself kind of, well, bored.

First of all, this is the fifteenth book set in this universe and the eleventh book following the adventures of Miles Vorkosigan. And it is the first book in which there is no major character development.

It makes a certain amount of sense. Miles was introduced in The Warrior’s Apprentice (incidentally, that book (awesome-awesome-awesome) is available for free online, because both Bujold and Baen Publishers are very cool) as a high-born teenager in a military culture who failed to pass the military entrance exam due to physical disability despite all the nepotism in the world. He’s an awesome character: a brilliant, hyperactive dwarf with brittle bones, a lot of high-ranking family connections, and a deep desire to prove himself. It gets him into and then out of So Much Trouble.

But he does, slowly and painfully (and awesomely!), grow up. He grows into himself and faces set backs and failures and grows into himself again and changes who he is and what he wants and if the teenage years were hard, the twenties were driven, and the thirties were vicious, but now he’s settled. He’s happy with who he is and where he is and what he’s doing.

This makes me very happy for him.

But, well, there’s a reason most stories end with the whole “happy ever after” summary of the rest of characters’ lives. Happy settled people aren’t really as interesting as manic, driven people.

Now, character development isn’t the only thing that Bujold does fabulously well.  Her world-building is amazing and rich and deep. Her plot lines and mysteries are complex and tricky and hilarious. And Miles does remain an excellent character and driven in his investigations once they get going.

Cryoburn absolutely demonstrates Bujold’s skills at both science-fiction world-building and tricky plotting. The problem is that since the storyline is a mystery, and the reader only sees Miles’ discoveries as he’s making them, it takes a while for both Miles and the reader to get the momentum going.

Once it gets going, though, the book is excellent. I love the twisty plots and plans and characters and Miles’ manic investigation into them all.

It occurs to me that this book actually might work best as a stand-alone, without having read any of the previous books in the series, and thus coming to it without expectations.

The only thing that needs real background to get the full impact is the epilog, after all the plot ends have been tied up. The epilog, oh, the epilog: it hits like a punch to the sternum and makes my heart skip a beat. (You do need to have read the series to get the full impact, but oh, my heart, oh Miles, oh Bujold, love-love-love!)

So expect to slog a bit through the beginning, but the later two-thirds are really, really good.