The Orphans of Raspay by Lois McMaster Bujold

OrphansOfRaspay1The Orphans of Raspay
by Lois McMaster Bujold
2019

Yay! Another Penric & Desdemona short story by Bujold! For the first time, Amazon’s update email was actually useful to me despite going out a full week after the novella was published on July 17th. Normally I stalk Bujold’s listing much more carefully but I’ve been busy recently and thus only learned about this title on the 24th when Amazon finally got around to emailing me.

It is a delight! It’s also a novella of extreme self-indulgence, with both plot and character arc being mostly absent, but adventure and swashbuckling in quantity!

This is also an amazing example of what you can get away with if you set up the world-building right. Because in this fantasy world, there are five gods (father, mother, son, daughter, and bastard) and Penric is a devotee of the Bastard: literally the god of luck (good and bad) and all things out of season. And thus, it actually makes perfect in-universe sense for Penric to have amazingly good and bad luck in all things, especially when one takes into account his demon Desdemona who sheds chaos even as she also provides him with extraordinary powers.

The story starts with his ship being attacked by pirates and continues on in wacky hijinks after he’s taken on the temporary guardianship, as best he can, of two young orphans who were also taken by the pirates.*

This is an utter delight and I have no idea how comprehensible it is to anyone who hasn’t read the rest of the series but I’d be interested to know if it’s so indulgent that it actually can stand on its own. It’s essentially a day-in-the-life (or, in this case, week-in-the-life) of a temple sorcerer in a fantasy world.  And I love it!

* While I love this story, here’s a warning for pirates being pirates and actually genuinely bad and there are threats of sexual assault.

Knife Children by Bujold

knifechildrenKnife Children
by Lois McMaster Bujold
2019

I love that Bujold is enjoying her retirement by writing short stories set in the various universes she created with her novels. Previously, she’d been writing in the Challion and Vorkosigan universes, but this story is set in the Sharing Knife universe.

And somehow I never actually reviewed any of the Sharing Knife quartet here?

sharingknife-series

The Sharing Knife: Beguilement (2006)
The Sharing Knife: Legacy (2007)
The Sharing Knife: Passage (2008)
The Sharing Knife: Horizon (2009)

They are each their own independent book, with plot arcs and character arcs that come to excellent conclusions, but they also form a quartet that has it’s own overarching plot arc, more so than just a series of four books. And the world they have is amazing!

It’s a fantasy world with a frontier era with towns and farms and blacksmiths homesteaders, etc, but also with a significant bit of cultural conflict between the Farmers (settlers and city people) and the Lakewalkers (nomadic tribes with a type extra ability that they consider normal but that Farmers consider magic). And then there’s the malices. (“Malices” to the Lakewalkers who hunt them, “blight-boggles” to the Farmers who don’t always believe they exist.)

The first book starts the romance between a young Farmer woman, Fawn, and a significantly older Lakewalker man, Dag, but it’s also about starting: starting, or starting again, and trying, and doing ones best, even if you don’t quite know where you’re going or how it’s going to work out. Sometimes you just have to do something and see where it gets you. I don’t want to spoil events by even starting to summarize the others books, but continue to follow Fawn and Dag as they find their place and places in the world. And a strong theme having to work to communicate across cultures but that it’s possible and it’s worth it, and it works if both sides are trying and not so much when either side isn’t.

And deal with malices along the way, because there’s a lot of adventure too, mostly to do with hunting (and being hunted by) malices.

The world building is amazing, especially when it comes to the malices, which are these magical beings that suck the life out of everything around them, and are immortal. Rather than the traditional definition of immortal (can’t be killed), Bujold has created these creatures that don’t know how to die. And thus the “sharing knives”, which are special bone knives capable of holding a death that can then be shared with a malice. And just the thought that goes into the magic and the culture and the misunderstandings and just, oh so good!

I recommend them all.

But coming back to Knife Children: it’s set a dozen or so years after the end of the book series. It follows Barr, a character introduced in Passage, as a young ass of a Lakewalker who slowly becomes a better person over the course of two books, and his teenage half-Farmer daughter Lily, who was not previously aware of her half-Lakewalker heritage. Unlike the books, there’s only peripheral malice conflict, and the plot is driven almost entirely by the character arcs, and those characters are wonderful.

I’m not sure how well the short story stands on its own, but it was certainly intended to. And I’d be interested in hearing if anyone tries it, what their thoughts are.

But mostly I want to reiterate that Bujold is amazing and I highly recommend her and all of her writing.

The Flowers of Vashnoi by Bujold

flowersofvashnoiThe Flowers of Vashnoi
by Lois McMaster Bujold
2018

Yay! When I first heard that Lois McMaster Bujold had decided to retire, I was horrified, but now I’m kind of delighted because apparently she’s spending her retirement writing short stories instead of novels. And they’re coming out relatively quickly.

I’ve previously reviewed her Penric & Desdemona stories that I absolutely love and am desperately awaiting more of, but apparently she was feeling inspired recently to return to her Vorkosigan universe and wrote a short story about Ekaterin.

I am so deeply familiar with this series that I’m not actually sure how much that familiarity is necessary to understanding this story, but I believe it’s intended to be readable as a stand-alone.

“The Flowers of Vashnoi” strikes me very much as Bujold revisiting her previous short story, “The Mountains of Mourning” a generation later. Both stories deal with the fall-out of social progress and the heart-breaking necessity of hard decisions with no good solutions.

I loved the story, but I think I loved it most for being another peak into the world of these characters that I love. It was good to see what Ekaterin has been doing and how life on Barrayar continues.

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.