Timothy Rice

Penric's Progress

If you don’t understand something, you should just try to learn more, that’s all.

Rating: 2/5 – Disappointing work from one of the great masters.

Lois McMaster Bujold is one of my all-time favorite authors, and the Curse of Challion (which kicked off her fantasy writing) is in my book Hall of Fame. Bujold’s Vorkosigan novellas (collected together in Borders of Infinity) are some of the best books in that titanic series, so I was very excited for this series (Penric’s Progress is a collection of three novella’s).

However, something is off in this work. I think it’s primarily down to a fundamental departure from the character writing that distinguishes so much of Bujold’s other work. She has said before that the best way to write characters is to “imagine the worst thing that can happen to them, and then do that”. That strategy plays our magnificently is almost all of her other work.

In Penric, though, there is almost no conflict. Very little drives the plot forward beyond Penric’s innate curiosity to learn about whatever particular circumstance he happens to find himself in. The stakes of the plot are so low they may as well not exist. The plot’s themselves are transparent and completely without novelty or surprise.

Given that prior work set in this universe (call the “World of Five Gods” by its fans) explored some tricky theological questions, I was hoping for more of that here. But the theological questions are almost entirely absent.

Overall these books left me dis\sapointed and it’s unlikely I will go back and finish the rest of the series. Better instead to re-read some of Bujold’s great works.

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