This is the fifth novella written in the Penric series, but is chronologically # 3 - it takes place after Penric and the Shaman and before Penric's Mission. I was glad to see Bujold go back in time to a less-experienced Penric and Desdemona, and it was a very enjoyable entry in a very enjoyable series. In this story, Penric, Inglis, and Oswyl investigate a murder which involves a demon; both shamans and sorcerers get involved.

Bujold's magic systems continue to be cool, and if you like seeing magic treated with an analytical, scientific approach, this is the series for you. Unusually, it balances that with a type of magic which is more numinous and magical-feeling, which is the Gods themselves. This is one of my very favorite series for benevolent fictional Gods - I love the visits by the Gods, which are consistently long enough to be satisfying and brief/occasional enough to carry weight and not overstay their welcome.

Penric's Fox: Penric and Desdemona Book 3
Penric’s Shaman

A lovely novella about a young magician-priest in a world where Gods are real, the mostly-benevolent demon possessing him (actually, ten demons; it’s complicated), another priest who’s less uptight than he seems at first, a runaway shaman, several ghosts, and some very unusual dogs. It’s set in Bujold’s Curse of Chalion world, but you don’t need to have read those novels to read this. However, I would ideally read “Penric’s Demon” first for background.

This feels much more fresh, human, and heartfelt to me than recent Vorkosigan novels. The characters are well-drawn in a short space, with compelling predicaments both practical and moral/ethical. There are no real villains among the major characters, just people with different cultures, backgrounds, beliefs and duties. The climax was very touching. I love the way Bujold depicts the Gods. They are awe-invoking, worthy of worship without negating the value or meaning of human choice.

Penric's Mission

This one picks up ten years after the last. Penric is older but still his essential self, no less sweet for being a little more world-weary. I liked Shaman a little more but mostly because I was more intrigued by the magic and loved the climax of that one so much. Mission is also very good, just different.

Penric's mission, a bit of secret letter delivery, goes pear-shaped almost immediately, tossing him into a particularly nasty dungeon (and enabling an inventive escape). He then assigns himself a new mission involving some difficult medical magic (warning for graphic eye injury) and an understated romance.

If the magic has gone out of the Vorkosiverse, at least to my taste, it's very much alive in these stories. They're inventive, thoughtful, and heartfelt.
A novelette set in the Chalion world, in which Gods and demons are real, though powerful and supernatural forces rather than representatives of the concepts of good and evil. (People do generally think that Gods are good and demons are bad, but it’s more complicated than that.) It’s set about a hundred years before The Curse of Chalion. (This isn’t obvious in the text, or at least it wasn’t obvious to me; I think I found it in the author’s afterword.) You can start the series here; it’s unrelated to the other books, and a complete story.

A young man on a mission finds both his task and his entire life unexpectedly diverted when he becomes possessed by a demon. In this case, demon possession means having another personality sharing your mind and talking to you, not having your own personality displaced. In the process of learning about his demon in the hope of divesting himself of it, he learns a lot about himself, his world, and what he really wants from life.

The characters and story are likable and engaging, and the magic system and cosmology, which I enjoyed in the other books in the series, continue to be interesting. It’s a pleasant story with a cozy feeling, but a little slight, especially compared to the novels set in the same world. I was unreasonably distracted by a major character having a name that I have previously only encountered in a Shakespeare play, in a world which seems to have no relationship to ours, but this may not bother anyone other than me.

But if you like small-scale fantasy about well-meaning people, in a world in which altruism is neither stupid nor the sign of an approaching cement truck, you will probably like this. It reminded me a bit of The Goblin Emperor, though with a much more down to earth and informal tone. Bujold's Sharing Knives books also have something of this cozy, domestic feel, though they are romances and this is not.

Penric's Demon
I’m catching up on reviews; I read this some time last month. This is a bit unfortunate, because I enjoyed it while I read it, and if I’d reviewed it immediately afterward, I would have been more positive. One month later, I’m finding it un-memorable, which is not what I want from a Vorkosigan book.

In other ways, too, it wasn’t what I wanted. I always liked Ivan as a character, and what I probably would have liked best would be something with a tone along the lines of the early Miles books – funny with serious undertones, or serious with lots of funny moments – like The Warrior’s Apprentice or The Vor Game. I would have loved to see Bujold take Ivan a little more seriously, and have him wrestle with taking himself a little more seriously. Alternately, I would have enjoyed a pure light-hearted romp like Cetaganda or Ethan of Athos.

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance had a few good serious moments, and it had some excellent light-hearted romping. But it was embedded in a lot of low-conflict, low-stakes, low-emotion, low-intensity scenes hanging around Barrayar. I found this especially frustrating because I kept seeing how a scene or plot point could have played out in a more interesting way, and then it often didn’t.

I did enjoy reading this, so the review is more grumpy than my actual experience of the book. The first quarter or so, on Komarr, was pretty great. Especially the scene with the groats. I also loved the offering to the dead, and the conversation where Tej and Rish talk over their problems and keep coming to the conclusion that they could probably be solved by someone having sex with Byerly.

My issues with this book come down to why I love Bujold’s earlier books. They tend to have very intense feelings and high stakes, whether emotional or physical. This book had low-key emotions and low stakes. It had some good comic scenes, but was too slow-paced to work as pure comedy.

The issue of stakes also applies to comedy, as a lot of comedy only works if the characters are extremely, extremely worried that something will go wrong, and are putting tons of effort into ensuring that it won’t, or trying to fix it if it does. A lot of this book would have been funnier if the characters had been more frantic.

Spoilers below.

Read more... )

Please feel free to put spoilers in comments.

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance (Vorkosigan Saga)
This is purely for study purposes (mine) and entertainment (yours and mine). I cannot actually diagnose any real person.

Young Miles

Presenting Problem: Miles Vorkosigan is a 29-year-old white male who appears older than his reported age. He is of below-average height and weight, and has visible disabilities affecting his legs and back. He wore a military uniform, and his grooming and hygiene were above average (normal for Barrayaran military.) His speech and movements were very energetic, and he appeared restless and fidgety. Upon initial questioning, he appeared cooperative but irritated.

The client relaxed when he was assured that the contents of the meeting were not only confidential but top secret, and was quoted back (by advance permission) Imperial Security Chief Simon Illyan’s comment, “I don’t want to fix him. I just want to know what makes him tick.”

The client then confirmed that he was present due to an experimental pilot program bringing in Betan therapists to assess and, if necessary, treat members of Barrayaran Imperial Security. He rapidly diagnosed himself as “a bit bipolar, hyperactive, split personality, and megalomania,” then laughed when it was pointed out that the last two are not diagnoses.

Client stated that he has a history of depressive episodes and combat-related flashbacks, but neither interferes with his job performance. He stated that he has satisfying relationships with his family, is happy with his work, and has ongoing romantic relationships. Upon closer questioning, he admitted to a suicide attempt as a teenager and frustration over being unmarried. Client denies current suicidal ideation.

Personal History: Serious physical disabilities. Social prejudice due to ableism. Satisfying and very successful military career. High-stress life, but client stated that he enjoys this. Client seems very invested in his secret identity.

Family Background: Good relationship with parents and extended family. History of conflict with deceased grandfather. Recently learned of existence of clone-brother, but clone-brother cut off contact, to client’s regret.

Psychiatric/Treatment History: No previous diagnoses. Client said that he has never been treated for a mental illness, and speculated that he is probably allergic to all psychiatric medications.

Differential Diagnosis: Described manic and hypomanic states to client, and asked if he was having one now. Client stated that he is “always like this” except when he is having a depressive episode. Acquired client’s permission to call his mother, who agreed that client’s baseline met all the clinical criteria for hypomania, except for the existence of a non-hypomanic baseline. Client’s mother described client’s behavior as a child, which met the criteria for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Predominately Hyperactive/Impulsive Type. Client and client’s mother stated that the client has never had a manic episode except while under the influence of a substance.

Symptoms of PTSD are concentrated on the reexperiencing and increased arousal axes. Avoidance symptoms are missing, but reexperiencing ones (dreams, flashbacks, psychological distress, and physiological reactivity) are sufficiently intense as to justify the diagnosis.

Rule out Dissociative Identity Disorder. Client’s over-investment in his secret identity is common in military operatives, and there is no amnesia present.

Rule out Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Client’s grandiosity and sense of specialness don’t seem unrealistically inflated given his circumstances, and he shows no more entitlement and arrogance than is common among wealthy, high-status people. Other symptoms are not present.

Recommendations: 1. Individual therapy services to address his PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder. Recommend a cognitive-behavioral approach.

2. A complete medical examination to rule out possible physiological or medication-based causes for his conditions.

3. A medication consultation. NOTE: See extensive list of allergies. Be aware that while the therapist did not diagnose Bipolar II, it could be present in a non-diagnosable form.

4. Individual therapy services from a Jungian perspective to address issues of Persona and Self.

Axis I (clinical disorders): Major Depressive Disorder, Recurrent, With Catatonic Features. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Predominately Hyperactive/Impulsive Type.

Axis II (personality disorders and mental retardation): : No diagnosis.

Axis III (general medical conditions): : See attached files.

Axis IV (psychosocial and environmental problems): : High-pressure occupation. Ongoing search for wife.

Axis V (GAF: Global Assessment of Functioning): : 65 (Some distressing symptoms, but generally functioning well.)

Rachel's note: What do you think? Do you need the existence of a non-hypomanic baseline to diagnose Bipolar II? Or should I have gone ahead and diagnosed it anyway? (Or guessed that brief non-hypomanic, non-depressive periods probably existed but had gone unnoticed?)
Adrian likes anime, but had not yet read any manga-- until I gave him volume 1 of Monster. After the obligatory few pages of disorientation via unfamiliar reading orientation, he was completely sucked into the clever plotting and generally correct medical details (though he is still trying to figure out what medical instrument was translated as "spatula.") I have promised to loan him the rest of the series (as far as I have it, anyway.)

He also loved His Majesty's Dragon -- another gift from me.

I just packed him off to the airport for a week-long trip to Denver, along with my final gift, Young Miles, which constitutes The Warrior's Apprentice, The Vor Game, and "The Mountains of Mourning." When I described it to him, he said that he thinks his best buddy Jarrad, who was an Air Force medic with him, had recced it to him before. My mention of "Camp Permafrost" rang a bell, as apparently that was Jarrad's nickname for some godforsaken base in North Dakota.
Adrian likes anime, but had not yet read any manga-- until I gave him volume 1 of Monster. After the obligatory few pages of disorientation via unfamiliar reading orientation, he was completely sucked into the clever plotting and generally correct medical details (though he is still trying to figure out what medical instrument was translated as "spatula.") I have promised to loan him the rest of the series (as far as I have it, anyway.)

He also loved His Majesty's Dragon -- another gift from me.

I just packed him off to the airport for a week-long trip to Denver, along with my final gift, Young Miles, which constitutes The Warrior's Apprentice, The Vor Game, and "The Mountains of Mourning." When I described it to him, he said that he thinks his best buddy Jarrad, who was an Air Force medic with him, had recced it to him before. My mention of "Camp Permafrost" rang a bell, as apparently that was Jarrad's nickname for some godforsaken base in North Dakota.
.

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