Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold

penricsdemon“You ought to have a name for when I mean all of you, as one. Not Demon. Something nicer than what I’d call a dog, for the five gods’ sakes. How if I pick something? Make it a present.”

The silence this time was so long, he wondered if the creature had gone back to sleep, or into hiding, or whatever it did when he could not feel or hear it.

“In twelve long lives,” it said quietly at last, “no one has ever offered us a present.”

Penric is an insignificant younger brother of a minor Baron of a kingdom in the middle of nowhere. But on the way to his betrothal to the daughter of a rich cheese merchant, he stops to help a dying woman. Unfortunately, it turns out the woman is a sorcerer who carries a demon, and on her death, the demon transfers to the nearest suitable person — in this case, Penric.

Penric’s new demon has had twelve previous ‘Riders’, all of them women, and has learnt from all of them, so that it speaks to him in twelve different voices, rather like a squabbling tribe of older sisters in his head, and he calls her/them Desdemona. My favourite part of the story was watching the growing friendship of Penric and Desdemona as he gets used to having her always in his head, and she adapts to inhabiting a male body for the first time.

Possessing a demon makes Penric, young as he is, a de facto sorcerer, so he must learn how to manage his new powers while also being aware of those who would use him for political gain.

Penric’s Demon is a novella, which makes it a quick yet satisfying read, set in The World of the Five Gods like Bujold’s previous Chalion books. You don’t need to have read those to enjoy this, however, and Penric’s story is a good introduction to that world and its theology. Whereas the Chalion stories are set in a country based on alternative medieval Spain, Penric’s story is set in a version of Britain in the dark ages, and you can spot the nods to actual historical events if you are interested (although this isn’t necessary to enjoy the story).

Penric’s Demon is available from Amazon. A sequel, called Penric and the Shaman, was published this week.

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