Short works

Books : reviews

Lois McMaster Bujold.
The Spirit Ring.
Baen. 1992

rating : 4 : passes the time


Lois McMaster Bujold.
Dreamweaver's Dilemma.
NESFA Press. 1995

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 28 July 1997

A collection of short stories and essays, the best of which have already appeared elsewhere in print before. "The Adventures of the Lady on the Embankment" is a good Sherlock Holmes pastiche, capturing the feel, without the turgidness, of the original. "Barter", "Garage Sale" and "The Hole Truth" are well-written, but rather slight (in terms of SF content), stories of the hell of contemporary suburban life, those kind of single SF-trick stories typical of many Golden Age pulps. "Dreamweaver's Dilemma" is a more substantial novella, with a more satisfying, interesting SF background, turning on more than just a single idea.

And then there's the Hugo and Nebula award winning novella "The Mountains of Mourning", giving us a turning point in Miles Vorkosigan's life. Here Bujold is showing her real depth and skill, as Miles undergoes a harrowing experience, and must use all his skill, cunning, and compassion, not simply to solve a murder, but more importantly to deliver justice. In one of the essays, Bujold says that she thinks the novel is her best length: I believe she's right -- despite her spare, transparent prose style, she needs room for all the layering, depth and development she gives her characters and plots -- but she certainly packs a lot into this novella (having a previously established background helps, of course).

There is a pair of sentences near the end of "MoM" that might help illustrate the marvelous way Bujold writes her stories. Earlier, we saw Miles' horse, Fat Ninny, eating the feral roses (an adjective-noun combination that itself is just wonderful) with evident enjoyment en route to Silvy Vale. Now, after the crisis is over, and Miles can relax, we get:

Miles plucked a rose, checked to make sure that Esterhazy was nowhere in sight, and bit into it curiously. Clearly, he was not a horse.

Just look at the way that there is no description at all of what that rose tasted like, or Miles' reaction to it. No "sour, bitter, flavour". No "spitting it out in disgust", no "wiping his mouth on his sleeve", no clichés. And yet, from that short, spare sentence "Clearly, he was not a horse", I have a perfectly vivid impression of what Miles felt, and how he reacted; I just provided the rest of it myself!

In her essay "The Unsung Collaborator" Bujold explains how this happens all the time, how the reader is not a passive lump, but that the reader's contribution is important, and how that contribution is completely ignored by most literary analysis and criticism. The reader does much of the writer's work, is just as actively engaged in the world building as the author. (Of course, when the writer has worked hard to make the prose this wonderful, the reader's work is made a lot easier!) And this is why some readers, who don't collaborate for whatever reason, just don't 'get' SF. For example, of her parents, on wondering what she and her friends saw in Star Trek:

They thought that what they were seeing on the screen, the plot and effects and dialog, was all there was.

I found the essays more interesting than the stories (apart from "The Mountains of Mourning", of course). The best is "The Unsung Collaborator", mentioned above. "Answers" is a write-up of a recent interview. It's got some interesting stuff in it, especially the description of how she constructs a story: outlining, reoutlining, choreographing the dialog, and trying it out on test readers. No wonder it all flows so well; it's been thoroughly polished to a high sheen.

Despite the interest of some of the essays, I would have to rank this collection as for complete-ists only (especially for the Vorkosigan data appendixes: names, genealogy, etc). The title story is the only one that hasn't been published elsewhere that I might have wanted to read, and that's marginal. "The Mountains of Mourning" on its own would certainly makes it worthwhile buying the whole collection, except that you would be better off with Borders of Infinity, which also has the two other Miles novellas.


Allegories of Change: the "New" Biotech in the Eye of Science Fiction. 1989
The Mountains of Mourning. 1987

Miles is 20: Ensign Miles graduates from the Academy, and has to act as detective and judge in an infanticide case.

Miles is sent as his father's Voice to investigate a case of infanticide, both to send a message through the District that killing "mutant" babies is no longer acceptable, and as a test of his own abilities. The case has a profound affect on him.
The Adventures of the Lady on the Embankment. 1995
A young woman is found beside the Thames, injured and in shock. Where did she come from, and what is she running from? Sherlock Holmes must deduce the answers before her past catches up with her.
Barter. 1985
A harassed mother of three young horrors, and wife of a layabout, barters some household goods for a bit of well-deserved peace and quite.
Garage Sale. 1987
The perfectionist neighbour from hell is rather over-dependent on her things.
The Hole Truth. 1986
The new pothole may be a great way of disposing of your garbage, but there's got to be a catch.
Dreamweaver's Dilemma. 1995
A dream artist begins to suspect her latest work might not have been commissioned for innocent purposes, and calls on her friend from the past to help prevent an as yet uncommitted crime.
My First Novel. 1990
(essay) On the genesis of Shards of Honour (originally to have been titled Mirrors) and The Warrior's Apprentice
Beyond Genre Barriers. 1992
(essay) Why people don't read science fiction.
The Unsung Collaborator. 1989
(essay) What the reader brings to the story-telling process.
Answers. 1995

Lois McMaster Bujold, Roland J. Green, eds.
Women at War.
Tor. 1995


Jennifer Stevenson. The Purge. 1995
Rebecca M. Meluch. Traitor. 1995
Holly Lisle. A Few Good Men. 1995
Judith Tarr. Sitting Shiva. 1995
Mickey Zucker Reichert. Homecoming. 1995
Jane Yolen. The One-Armed Queen. 1995
Sydney Long. For the Right Reason. 1995
Juanita Coulson. A Matter of Faith. 1995
Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. First Communion. 1995
Susan Booth. Edge of the Sword. 1995
Gay Marshall. The Heart of the Hydra. 1995
P. J. Beese. White Wings. 1995
Adrienne Martine-Barnes. Flambeaux. 1995
Margaret Ball. Notes During a Time of Civil War. 1995
P. N. Elrod. Fugitives. 1995
Pauline M. Griffin. Lizard. 1995
Elizabeth Moon. Hand to Hand. 1995

Lois McMaster Bujold.
Harper. 2006

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 29 December 2006

Fawn Bluefield is running away from home, unable to stand the embarrassment of her current predicament, so going to look for work in to city. But on her way there she encounters the scary Lakewalkers, people who battle the semi-mythical bogles. Before she knows it, she is involved in a battle, and ends up killing the bogle, and unprecedentedly bound to Lakewalker Dag's sharing knife. This means she will have to accompany Dag back to the Lakewalkers' home, by way of her own family -- both encounters much more frightening than and demon bogle!

This is told with all of Bujold's mastery -- two people ending up in predicaments not entirely of their own making, and coping maturely. All the frightening action, including the encounter with the bogle, happens at the beginning, before we've really got to know Fawn. The remainder is about her growing relationship with Dag, and their trip back to her family. This at first sight appears to be the wrong way round, but it soon becomes clear that Fawn would much rather fight bogles than encounter her family, so most of the tension is indeed at the climax.

Although this is only half the story -- the meeting with the Lakewalkers is still to come -- it has a pleasing conclusion, and is an interesting new world to explore.

Lois McMaster Bujold.
HarperCollins. 2007

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 31 July 2007

Here we have the second half of the Fawn/Dag story started in Beguilement, as they travel to meet Dag's Lakewalker friends and relations, many of whom are even less pleased to see the two of them than Fawn's family were. Fawn tries to fit in, but then Dag is called away to lead the fight against an enormously powerful bogle, leaving Fawn alone with his relatives. When her bond with Dag tells her something is seriously wrong, she has to decide how to save him, despite opposition.

Bujold does uncomfortable, unpleasant family interactions really well, and they play a major part in this. But there is also a lot more world building, as we get to discover some of the history behind the bogles, and some more of Dag's powers. There is a sort of conclusion to the story, but no neat comfortable ending. This allows the possibility of further tales in this world, but mostly it gives a realistic feel: not all problems and personality clashes can be solved in a few hundred pages.

Lois McMaster Bujold.
HarperCollins. 2008

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 17 May 2008

Fawn and Dag, not welcome with the farmers or the Lakewalkers, go on a voyage down river to the sea. On the way they pick up a motley band of followers: Fawn's brother Whit looking for adventure, the simpleton Hod, healed then accidentally beguiled by Dag, the boat Boss Berry, looking for her missing family, and a couple of young tearaway Lakewalkers in disgrace. Dag uses the opportunity to try to educate each side about the other, but on the way learns a lot more about his own growing ground-manipulation powers.

More good world building as we see Dag and Fawn building the trust of their varied crew. It is quite slow moving and relaxed, despite crisis piling upon crisis, until the final showdown as we discover what happened to Berry's family. Whit's transformation from horrible "half-Whit" brother in the first book, to the more grown-up character in this book, is a little abrupt. But people do grow up -- certainly everyone here does, in one way or another, with no easy answers.

Lois McMaster Bujold.
HarperCollins. 2009

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 17 April 2009

Fawn and Dag have started having a little success with bringing Lakewalkers and Farmers together: their own small riverboat crew is getting on fine. But Dag desperately needs to be taught how to use his new making powers, which means going to a Lakewalker camp. He manages to gain a grudging acceptance, until he heals a desperately ill Farmer boy, and is expelled. The crew decide to go north up the river, spreading their tales. But what they meet on the way threatens either to destroy them, or just maybe to be the key to a new understanding between Lakewalkers and Farmers.

This combines personal growth of the various characters, along with the growth of the various cultures as they come to see each other in a different light. The key, of course, is not excluding some person or some group because they are "other", but of communicating and using the strengths of both. That sounds terribly moralistic, but mostly the point is put across in a relatively light-handed way, in between gobs of terrifying action. A fitting conclusion to the tale.

Lois McMaster Bujold.
Knife Children.
Subterranean Press. 2020

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 5 July 2020

Lakewalker Barr Foxbrush returns from two years of patrolling the bitter wilds of Luthlia against the enigmatic, destructive entities called malices, only to find that the secret daughter he’d left behind in the hinterland of Oleana has disappeared from her home after a terrible accusation. The search for her will call on more of Barr’s mind and heart than just his mage powers, as he tries to balance his mistakes of the past and his most personal duties to the future.

A new generation of Lakewalkers and Farmers are growing up, with less hostility than before, but still some frictions. Lakewalker Barr Foxbrush is returning home from patrol, and on the way stops off to check his daughter Oleana, the result of a youthful indiscretion with a Farmer lass. But he finds she has run off after a terrible tragedy, and needs to find her before her Lakewalker powers awake.

This short novel is a good study in how growing up is never over. Oleana is growing to adulthood, and Barr is growing to maturity, and this all requires adjustments not only by them, but by their families and workmates.

Lois McMaster Bujold.
Falling Free.
Headline. 1988

rating : 3.5 : worth reading

Approx 200 years before Miles' birth, Quaddies [humans with 4 arms] are created by genetic engineering.

Lois McMaster Bujold.
Shards of Honour.
Headline. 1986

rating : 2 : great stuff
review : 13 July 1997

Betan Captain Cordelia Naismith meets Lord Aral Vorkosigan while on opposite sides of the the Beta-Barrayaran war.

Every now and again I re-read one of the Vor books, promising myself that this time I will read just a few chapters, pay attention to the style, to the technique, and discover how Bujold does it, how she writes such great plots, such great characters. But I never succeed, because I get so quickly sucked into the story that before I realise it, I've finished the whole book, no wiser than before. It doesn't even seem to matter that I've read them so many times I must know the plots almost off by heart. I had another go this week, with Shards of Honour: same result.

This is the first of the Vor books. (Falling Free, although set in the same universe, is about three hundred years earlier, and has only a little continuity with the rest of the series.) Cordelia Naismith, a Betan Expeditionary Force commander, and Aral Vorkosigan, a Barrayaran officer on the other side of a war, meet for the first time.

As some net.posters have pointed out, as well as being a great SF novel, Shards of Honour is also structured as a classic Romance: the two main characters, each a bit of a misfit in their own societies, meet, but there are several obstacles to be overcome before they can be together. In this case, those obstacles are interstellar war, politics and intrigue, and conflicting loyalties.

But it is the depth and interest of the various characters as they struggle with their internal conflicts, the realistically drawn universe, the culture clashes, the humour, and the rollicking great adventures, that makes this series so fascinating. The scene here where Cordelia single-handedly foils the mutiny is probably bettered only by the "return from shopping" scene in Barrayar. And there is still Miles to come!

Lois McMaster Bujold.
Baen. 1991

rating : 2 : great stuff
review : 10 July 1998

During the Vordarian Pretendership: Cordelia is pregnant; an attempt to assassinate Aral with poison gas fails, but affects the unborn Miles.

Shards of Honour has a classic 'happy ever after' kind of ending, as Cordelia and Aral marry. But just what does happen afterwards to such adventure-prone people? Since Bujold's style is to see how her characters behave when 'the worst thing possible for them' happens to them, things are not going to be easy.

Barrayar opens four months later: Emperor Ezar has died, Aral is Regent for young Gregor, and Cordelia is thrust unwillingly into a Barrayaran society that deeply mystifies and often appalls her Betan cultural sensibilities. Meanwhile, the more conservative factions are plotting against Aral's progressive reforms, civil war erupts, and Cordelia and her unborn baby are caught in the crossfire. With Miles' life at stake, Cordelia takes things into her own hands...

Bujold certainly packs in the action. We have the soltoxin attack that causes Miles' deformities; we have a civil war with Cordelia escaping with Gregor through the mountains; we have Cordelia's famous "shopping trip" to end the war. And we still have room for a tangled romance between Droushnakovi and Koudelka, and some deep scenes with Bothari. All in Bujold's glorious transparent prose, with the odd touch of wry humour. Cracking stuff.

Lois McMaster Bujold.
The Warrior's Apprentice.
Baen Books. 1986

rating : 2 : great stuff

Miles is 17: He fails the physical for the Service Academy, goes to Beta, accidentally forms the Free Dendarii Mercenaries, and meets Elli Quinn.

"Oh, was that liquor of yours a stimulant?" asked Elena. "I wondered why he didn't fall asleep."
"Couldn't you tell?" chuckled Mayhew.
"Not really."
Mayhew's laughter faded. "My God," he said hollowly, "you mean he's like that all the time?"

Lois McMaster Bujold.
Borders of Infinity.
Baen. 1987

rating : 2 : great stuff


The Mountains of Mourning. 1987

Miles is 20: Ensign Miles graduates from the Academy, and has to act as detective and judge in an infanticide case.

Miles is sent as his father's Voice to investigate a case of infanticide, both to send a message through the District that killing "mutant" babies is no longer acceptable, and as a test of his own abilities. The case has a profound affect on him.
Labyrinth. 1989

Miles is 22: He and the Dendarii smuggle a scientist out of Jackson's Whole; Miles meets Taura.

The Borders of Infinity. 1989

Miles is 24: He breaks out of a Cetagandan PoW camp on Dagoola IV to free the prisoners.

The Borders of Infinity linking story. 1989

Miles is 25: While in hospital, he undoes a plot against his father.

Lois McMaster Bujold.
The Vor Game.
Baen. 1990

rating : 2.5 : great stuff

Miles is 20: He gets arrested, and has to rejoin the Dendarii to rescue the Emperor

Lois McMaster Bujold.
Baen. 1996

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 3 November 1996

Miles is 22: Miles and Ivan attend a Cetagandan state funeral and solve a murder.

Miles and Ivan go to Cetaganda, Barrayar's old enemy, for the old Empress's state funeral. Before they even arrive, curious events start happening, and Miles determines to puzzle things out for himself, rather than telling his superiors. Before long, things have become very complicated and serious, with a murder, and evidence of treason. Miles is being framed, possibly to encourage a new war between Barrayar and Cetaganda. Miles teams up with a haut-lady to solve the murder and save the Cetagandan Empire from treason.

A good Miles puzzle story, with him having to think on his feet, but with a little less frenetic action than usual. We learn a bit more about the complex Cetagandan society.

Lois McMaster Bujold.
Ethan of Athos.
Baen Books. 1986

rating : 3 : worth reading

Elli Quinn and Ethan from the all-male planet Athos team up on Kline station to hunt for some missing eggs.

Lois McMaster Bujold.
Brothers in Arms.
Headline. 1989

rating : 2.5 : great stuff

Miles is 24: The Dendarii flee the Cetagandans to Earth; Miles defeats a plot to replace him with his clone brother Mark.

Lois McMaster Bujold.
Mirror Dance.
Baen. 1994

rating : 2 : great stuff

[another cover]

Miles is 28: He meets his clone brother Mark again, on Jackson's Whole; Miles is killed; Mark is rehabilitated

For an amusing coincidence, here's the cover of the 1986 Corgi edition of the novelisation of the film, starring Dennis Quaid (left) and Lou Gossett Jr, based on Barry Longyear's story "Enemy Mine".

Lois McMaster Bujold.
Baen. 1996

rating : 2 : great stuff
review : 31 December 1996

"Miles hits thirty; thirty hits back"

Miles isn't feeling too good after his death (in Mirror Dance); he keeps having seizures. Finally he has one during a Dendarii mission, injures someone, but tries to cover it up. Illyan finds out, and drums him out of ImpSec. Then things start to get worse: Illyan's memory chip is playing up: is it natural decay, or sabotage? Illyan's deputy won't let the disgraced Miles help. And Gregor is distracted by a Komarran...

How will Miles face up to finally losing everything: his Admiral Naismith persona, the Dendarii Free Mercenaries, Elli Quinn? He finds he has to rebuild himself as a Barrayaran, whilst saving Illyan, discovering if there is a traitor, and getting his seizures cured.

Not necessarily the best place for a newcomer to start the series: this far into Miles' complex life there is too much background needed. For example, in the first three chapters, it is clear that Miles loves Elena, is having a relationship with Elli, and an affair with Taura. Might give some readers the wrong impression...

Lois McMaster Bujold.
Baen. 1998

rating : 2.5 : great stuff
review : 26 July 1998

Miles is 30: Imperial Auditor Miles solves a mystery on Komarr

There has been a devastating accident at Komarr: an ore-freighter has crashed into the solar array, badly damaging it, threatening the terraforming project. Emperor Gregor needs to know if it was indeed an accident, or instead an act of terrorism, and if so, by whom. So engineering expert Imperial Auditor Professor Vorthys is sent to find out. It's just three months since Miles himself was made an Auditor, and he feels underqualified for his role, so he tags along to 'observe' Vorthys. The two Auditors stay on Komarr with Vorthys' niece Ekaterin Vorsoisson and her husband Etienne, while they slowly unravel the cause.

A rather lighter tale than, say, Memory, since Miles does not undergo any deep trauma or fundamental shift of his world-view -- although he does gets an interesting insight into that traumatic event at the end of the Dagoola prison camp escape. But he does fall in love, which is clearly going to change his life significantly in books to come, because for the first time he is involved with someone as Lord Vorkosigan, not as Admiral Naismith. [For me, parts of this love story have interesting resonances with Dorothy L Sayers' Wimsey-Vane detective/love stories.] And the puzzle solving is interesting, especially as we get to see Barrayar from yet another external perspective, as the conquered Komarrans deal with the son of the Butcher of Komarr.

The PoV alternates between Ekaterin and Miles. Bujold, as always, makes excellent use of the "third person personal" narration technique -- told from an intimately close perspective of the PoV character. When Miles is the viewpoint character, we get to see the world filtered through his highly individual perceptions. And when Ekaterin is the viewpoint, we get a different filtering, and see Miles from the outside, as others seem him. Fascinatingly, although many of the scenes have both Miles and Ekaterin in them, it is always clear who the viewpoint character is, from the very different "voice".

Lois McMaster Bujold.
A Civil Campaign.
Baen. 1999

rating : 2 : great stuff
review : 31 December 1999

Miles is 31: The Emperor's wedding sparks romance and intruige on Barrayar, and Miles plunges up to his neck in both.

Miles has at last met the woman he wants for his wife -- Ekaterin. But she, after her disastrous marriage to Tien, and now free to pursue her career, has sworn off marriage for ever. So Miles has a cunning plan -- to woo her in secret -- secret from her. Unfortunately, Miles hasn't realised that courtship is not a military campaign, and he has forgotten that this is the woman he swore never to lie to. So obviously, things are going to go wrong -- spectacularly wrong. And then get worse.

Subtitled "A Comedy of Biology and Manners", the main thread about Miles and Ekaterin is backed up by many equally fascinating subplots: the whole cast is brought back together by Gregor and Laissa's imminent wedding. Mark and Kareen have returned from an ... educational ... year on Beta; Mark begins to discover his family, and Kareen begins to realise just how far she has changed from hers. Aral and Cordelia have returned from Sergyar; they have to help sort out the various family misunderstandings. Ivan begins to appreciate just how much the Barrayaran sex ratio is not in his favour. Various factions are politicking for two Counts' seats (one of which is caused by new biotech, and one of which has a potential biotech solution), and are plotting against Miles any way they can. And, of course, there's the whole butter bug project...

Watching the well-known characters grow and learn -- sometimes more about themselves that they might have wanted to know -- and interact with one another, especially interacting with people they thought they knew, but who have changed, is wonderful. The Dedication is to Jane [Austen?], Charlotte [Brontë?], Georgette [Heyer?], and Dorothy [L. Sayers?] -- all masters of the "Comedy of Manners". [As I said at the time, some Wimsey/Vane resemblances were clear in Komarr; they are even clearer here -- although Wimsey would never make the mistakes of deceit that Miles does.] The parallel "Comedy of Biology" is perfectly integrated, and gives the whole story that SFnal edge. I laughed so hard in placed that I couldn't keep reading -- and I also wiped a tear in places. Simply delightful.

Lois McMaster Bujold.
Diplomatic Immunity.
Baen. 2002

rating : 2.5 : great stuff
review : 11 May 2002

Miles is 32: Miles and Ekaterine's honeymoon journey is interrupted by an Auditorial mission to Quaddiespace, where they encounter old friends, new enemies, and a double handful of intrigue.

Miles and Ekaterin are on their way home from their belated honeymoon, intending to arrive in time to see their first children born. But on the way Miles receives a message from Gregor, about a Barrayaran "diplomatic incident" in Quaddie-space, that needs an Auditor to sort out.

So off they set, to sort out what starts off as a minor unpleasantness, and maybe solve a murder, and meet up with some of Miles' old flames.... But with Miles involved, it's no surprise when the situation soon escalates into something much nastier, and then into something potentially disastrous. And all the while the kids back home are getting closer to leaving their uterine replicators.

Not one of the "growth" stories in the series, but an excellent one of the puzzle/adventure stories (although unfortunately we don't get to see any action from Ekaterin's PoV).

Lois McMaster Bujold.
Baen. 2010

rating : 2.5 : great stuff
review : 27 November 2010

Miles is 39: Miles and Roic go to Kibou-daini to investigate cryo-corporation chicanery.

Imperial Auditor Miles is sent off to Kibou-daini to investigate a business proposal for a death-cheating cryo-storage facility on Komarr. Accompanied by Armsman Roic, he finds a planet whose economic and political system is dominated by the frozen, and inevitably he finds himself up to his previously-cryo-frozen neck in intrigue.

There is one massive coincidence driving the plot, yet I suspect if the just-escaped-from-kidnapping Miles hadn't been discovered by the key character Jin, his usual "forward momentum" would have led to another equally manic assault on his investigation. Again Bujold manages to take a new technology, and show what a profound effect it could have on a culture, here with an in-depth investigation of life, death, and mortality.

Great fun, along with some truly heart-rending moments. But I would like a Miles-and-Ekaterine story.

Lois McMaster Bujold.
Captain Vorpatril's Alliance.
Baen. 2012

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 20 December 2012

Ivan turns 35. ImpSec Headquarters suffers a problem with moles.

Ivan is on Kommar, being Admiral Desplain's staff officer, and keeping his head down and well out of any hint of politics. But then Byerly Vorrutyer shows up, asking for his help. This involves worming his way into the confidence of a young woman who is not all she seems to be. How hard could that be for someone like Ivan? Pretty tricky, it turns out, and Ivan-the-idiot finds himself up to his neck again in multi-planet intrigue.

Another fun Barrayar story, this time from Ivan's PoV. He's not an idiot, merely a deliberate underachiever, trying hard to keep out of the succession firing line. Yet, because he is such an underachiever, we don't get to experience all the manic brilliance of a Miles story. This is like the slow movement of a symphony: good solid fare, but really only as a setup for what may be to come (and lots of lovely reference to what came before: part of the fun is picking up on those).

Lois McMaster Bujold.
Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen.
Baen. 2016

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 13 March 2016

Captain Cordelia Naismith, Lady Vorkosigan, Vicereine of Sergyar: Cordelia has had a busy life, even if you ignore the hyperactive distraction that is Miles. But now her husband Aral has been dead these last three years, and the still-energetic and vital Cordelia has to decide what to do with the rest of her life. For once she can think of herself, rather than her duty. A secret from her and Aral’s past might allow her to do that.

This reads like the coda to the long and brilliant Vorkosigan series. I hope it isn’t: there are still stories to tell in this universe. But if it is, it goes out in a great way: a previously unrecorded, totally unexpected, but not at all implausible, aspect of Cordelia and Aral’s marriage is set to affect Cordelia’s future. Miles pops up to discover what is really going on (and will we now never get that Ekaterin story?), but he is somewhat peripheral to the main plotline; he feels somewhat shoe-horned in here, to allow us to bid adieu to the whole family. What is great is to see a bunch of adults acting like adults as they arrange their futures and discover their pasts. I read a significant portion of this through misted vision.

Lois McMaster Bujold.
The Curse of Chalion.
Harper. 2001

rating : 2.5 : great stuff
review : 19 December 2002

Cazaril is a broken man, returning home to beg some lowly job in his old household. But to his surprise and consternation, he ends up appointed tutor and secretary to the Royesse Iselle, and plunged back into all the politics and double dealing that nearly killed him before.

This starts off well, and carries on as good solid fantasy fare -- dark magic here, political scheming there, strange fierce civilisations yonder -- until about half way through. Then, just as you are relaxing into a conventional story, the plot takes an unexpected right-angled turn. And another. And another. Still solid fantasy contents, but suddenly you are sitting upright again, reading on to find out what's going to happen next. That something that doesn't happen with too many fantasies nowadays.

The characters are great, drawn with all Bujold's skill at spare descriptions. They act in believable ways -- even the most mustache-twirling villainous villains are as over-the-top evil as they are because of a curse. Cazaril himself, broken by his terrible experiences, but continuing to live, and to gain insight and wisdom from those experiences, is a marvellous protagonist. The background details, including the four-versus-five religious schism, make this feel like a real land with real history. And it's all very exciting -- especially after those plot twists. A superior fantasy.

Lois McMaster Bujold.
Paladin of Souls.
Harper. 2003

rating : 2.5 : great stuff
review : 30 May 2004

Dowager Royina Ista, for years driven mad by the the gods and the Curse of Chalion, is now cured. But she feels she is being driven mad again, now by the overly-solicitous care of her family. Desperate to escape, she embarks on a pilgrimage with courier turned handmaiden Liss, and the priest dy Cabon. But it very soon becomes clear that other forces are guiding her path, and that she is destined once again for the attention of the all-too-present gods.

This is a great sequel. Despite very few of the other characters from the previous book appearing, except by reference, it continues to build on the established setting. Again, someone with a shattered past struggles to keep going, and in the process, to rebuild their life. It is interesting to watch Ista emerge from the dreadful madness, betrayal and guilt that has stolen half her life, and become a person in her own right. And again, the plot keeps twisting off in lots of unexpected directions. Superior stuff.

Lois McMaster Bujold.
The Hallowed Hunt.
HarperEos. 2005

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 1 July 2006

Lord Ingrey kin Wolfcliff is sent to arrest Prince Boleso’s killer, the Lady Ijada, and return her to the capital for trial. This is not a straightforward case: the Hallowed King is near death, and the death of one of his sons has great political fallout. So Ingrey discovers that, although Ijada acted in self-defence against an attack from a madman, she is unlikely to receive a fair trial. And Ingrey himself has a dark secret that maybe only Ijada can understand, as he gains new powers, and as his cousin Wencel, and the five gods, take a strange interest in him.

This is not a sequel to the previous Chalion books; it is set in the same world, but earlier in time. But like the others, things don’t always progress in the expected directions, or have the expected outcomes. This is told in Bujold’s "third person personal" style, from Ingrey’s viewpoint, so we don’t get to see as much of Ijada as she maybe deserves. But Ingrey is a super character, struggling to do the right thing in the face of personal tragedy, dark secrets, and terrifying threats, as he falls in love with his prisoner, and wrestles with the complex machinations of the court, and the dangerous plans of the gods.

Lois McMaster Bujold.
Penric's Progress.
Baen. 2020

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 19 February 2020

Footloose nobleman Penric journeys from young lord to sorcerer and scholar in the Bastard’s Order – and solves mysteries along the way.

Penric’s Demon: On the way to his betrothal, young Lord Penric happens upon a riding accident and stops to help. But the victim is a Temple divine, servant to the five gods of this world. Her avowed god is The Bastard, “master of all disasters out of season.” As she lies dying, she passes her strange powers to Penric – and changes the course of his life forever.

Penric and the Shaman: Now a divine of the Bastard’s Order as well as a sorcerer and scholar, Penric must accompany a Locator of the Father’s Order assigned to capture a runaway shaman charged with the murder of his best friend.

Penric’s Fox: When Penric – sorcerer, scholar, and divine in the Bastard’s Order – travels to Easthome, the capital of the Weald, he once again finds himself embroiled in a mystery. The body of a sorceress has been found in the woods, and it is up to Penric and his friends, Shaman Inglis and Locator Oswyl, to unravel a mystery mixing magic, murder, and the strange realities of Temple demons.

Minor noble Penric’s life is changed forever when he inherits the demon Desdemona from a dying sorcerer. Penric is unschooled in the ways of demons, so treats her politely, like an unexpected guest, which rather disconcerts her, and affects the way she treats him. So they fall into a partnership, and have adventures, which mostly get resolved because Penric is a basically decent guy, and Desdemona becomes a helpful demon.

The book comprises three novellas, but can be read as a rather episodic novel that is clearly part of a longer series. There is some repetition of material to make each episode relatively stand-alone, but no so much as to be distracting. I read this through in one sitting.


Penric's Demon. 2015
How Penric and Desdemona meet.
Penric and the Shaman. 2016
Penric is sent to help bring back a Shaman who killed his own best friend; but the gods seem to have taken an interest in everyone involved.
Penric's Fox. 2017
A sorcerer is murdered; Penric needs to discover the culprit, and also rescue her released demon.

Lois McMaster Bujold.
Penric's Travels.
Baen. 2020

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 16 August 2020

A wily and witty hero on a journey of destiny!

Footloose nobleman Penric grows wiser and even more wily as he journeys from young lord to sorcerer and scholar in the Bastard’s Order. Oh, and he deals with intrigue and solves mysteries along the way!

Penric’s Mission: Penric must travel across the sea to Cedona in an attempt to secure the services of the Cedonia General Arisaydia for the Duke of Adria. But no sooner than he has arrived, Penric finds himself tossed into a dungeon. If Penric is to survive, he’ll have to navigate treacherous politics—and his own feelings tor the young widowed sister at the general.

Mira's Last Dance: Suffering injuries from escaping the Cedonian dungeon in which he was imprisoned, Penric must now guide General Arisaydia and his widowed sister, Nikys, across the last hundred miles of hostile Cedonia to safety. In the town of Sosie, the fugitive party encounters the courtesan Mira of Adria. She is one at the ten dead women whose imprints make up the personality of the chaos demon Desdemona. In Sosie, Mira comes to the fore with her own special—and dangerous—expertise.

The Prisoner of Limnos: Penric and Nikys receive a secret letter with frightening news: Nikys’s mother has been taken hostage by her brother’s enemies at the Cedonian imperial court and confined in a precarious island sanctuary. Now Nikys, Penric, and Desdemona must infiltrate the hostile country once more. And when they do, they find that negotiating family relationships can be as challenging as any rescue scheme.

Penric and his resident demon Desdemona have grown in wisdom and capability during their shared existence. Now they are sent to a foreign land to make contact with a foreign general. But their mission is sabotaged before they even start, and the bound pair must use all their skill and cunning to escape, along with the badly wounded general and his widowed sister, for whom Penric has growing feelings.

This is a series of three tightly connected novellas that can be read individually, or as a whole. I swallowed them whole.


Penric's Mission. 2016
Penric and Desdemona travel to Cedona on a mission for their Duke, but they are betrayed and captured. Fortunately, Penric is a skilled healer.
Mira's Last Dance. 2017
Penric, the Cedonan general, and his sister Nikys need to flee for their lives. While laying low in a brothel, the courtesan Mira, one of Desdemona’s personalities, may be the only one who can save them all.
The Prisoner of Limnos. 2017
Nikys’ mother has been taken hostage in Cedona, and Penric and Nikys need to save her. But they are not the only ones with an interest in her.

Lois McMaster Bujold.
Penric's Labors.
Baen. 2022

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 22 January 2023

Masquerade in Lodi: Bastard’s Eve is a night of celebration for most residents in the canal city of Lodi—but not for sorcerer Learned Penric and his Temple demon Desdemona, who find themselves caught up in the affairs of a shiplost madman, a dangerous ascendant demon, and a very unexpected saint of the fifth god.

The Orphans of Raspay: When the ship in which they are traveling is captured by Carpagamon island raiders, Penric and Desdemona find their life complicated by two young orphans, Lencia and Seuka Corva, who are far from home and searching for their missing father. Pen and Des will need all their combined talents of mind and magic to unravel the mysteries of the sisters and escape from the pirate stronghold.

The Physicians of Vilnoc: When a mysterious plague breaks out in the army fort guarding Vilnoc, the port capital of the duchy of Orbas, Penric and Desdemona are called upon by General Arisaydia to resurrect Penric’s medical skills and solve its lethal riddle. In the grueling days that follow, Pen will find that even his magic is not enough to meet the challenges without help from dedicated new colleagues—and the god of mischance.

This is another great trilogy of Penric novellas. The stories aren’t as closely connected as in the previous volume: here we have stories more widely dispersed in time, but all with the theme of Penric helping the unfortunate.


Masquerade in Lodi. 2020
The Orphans of Raspay. 2019
The Physicians of Vilnoc. 2020