This isn’t part of my project to review under-represented minorities—it’s one just for fun. This novella is another in the continuing series of Penric and his resident demon Desdemona. It was released in 2017, which makes it eligible for next year’s awards. It runs about 90 pages and looks to be released independently. It picks up where Penric’s Mission leaves off.

Penric, Arisaydia and Nikys are limping across Cedonia toward the border and safety in the Duchy of Orbas. Penric was injured in his recent battle with the sorcerer Kyrato; General Arisaydia is recuperating from blindness and his widowed sister Nikys is just plain tired. When they get to the town of Sosie, the temple is occupied by a funeral, so Penric can’t get money by robbing the collection boxes as he normally does. They find refuge in a brothel instead, as Penric contracts to rid the premises of pests. He heals the madam, as well, and borrows her expertise to disguise himself as a woman for the rest of the trip to the border. Unfortunately he catches the eye of one of the house’s clientele. Will they make it to the safety of Orbas? Will Penric and Nikys hook up?

Bujold is an accomplished writer, so her characterization, imagery, plot, etc. are all neatly in place. These novellas have been on the awards ballots fairly regularly, and I suspect the reason is that Penric is a boy and his demon is a girl. This leaves the option to investigate questions of gender identity and how this is received by others. I hadn’t noticed it so much in the other novellas, but here Penric assumes the identity of the courtesan Mira, navigating the minefields of cross-dressing and indeterminate sexuality while attempting to pursue the elusive Nikys. It’s a light, quick read, just the thing to brighten up a rainy night.

On the negative side, I wish these novellas were a little touch darker. They’re light on conflict, as there’s never much in the way of a real threat. Penric seems light-minded, as well, and never dark—just confusing to the people he meets. I hope there’s some supporting reason for this escapade in the upcoming tales.

Three and a half stars.

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