Review: Penric's Mission by Lois McMaster Bujold
This novella abounds with observations on light and the lack of it. Clarity of vision is contrasted with the blinding of a central character; the thrilling quality of an illuminated sky is juxtaposed with absolute darkness in a dungeon in the same city. For travelling cleric Penric with his demon companion Desdemona, this contrast is thrust upon them when the two (who share a single body, Penric's, are siezed in the course of a diplomatic mission, and shoved unceremoniusly into a dungeon oubliette. Penric's captors mean to prevent him from using powers lent by his demon indweller.
Instead, they force the two to expand those powers to create "action at a distance." Penric and Desdemona must visualize the flow of water through cracks in the rock surrounding them, and call on the Fifth God's love of chaos and dissolution to escape.
Further chaos and destruction ensue when Penric meets a young widow focused on helping her brother, the popular general who was the focus of Penric's mission. General Arisaydia has been deliberately blinded to set a hideous example for his men. As a martyr, he might become a rallying point; as a maimed man dependent on his sister, he is an object of pity.
Penric spends weeks hiding out with the two, determined to reverse the general's maiming. He hopes the cure will convince the general (and his sister) to come with him to the Duke of Adria, which will complete his mission. With the Bastard God and Desdemona involved, however, nothing could ever proceed as planned...
I loved the astute way Bujold played with physical and mental vision, using philosophical and emotional light and darkness as characters in her novel. Like a previous Bujold star, Miles VorKosigan, Penric is an intelligent young man with a crippling disability, whose story is always woven with dark threads of the reaction of others to his impairment, and the bright threads of his overcoming it.
Penric has far to go; I look forward to accompanying him on the next leg of his journey.