Demon Desdemona

Penric's Demon - Lois McMaster Bujold

After a string of DNFs, this little gem was a pleasure to read. Set in a fantasy world, it tells a story of a young naive man Penric, a nineteen-year-old lordling from an impoverished noble family, accidentally acquiring a demon.

For those unfamiliar with Bujold’s fantasy realm, a note of explanation: demons are not evil creatures. They are sentient spirits able to reside in a human body and share that body with its human owner. It’s the only way for a demon to exist in the human world, and they jump from body to body upon the death of their current host. In return for using the human body, they grant their hosts the ability to work magic – the demon hosts are sorcerers.

Of course, the host must have a strong will not to allow his demon to control him: demons tend to be mischievous. Moreover, a stringent theological education is required to receive a demon. There is a god (or gods, plural) involved.

A line up for new demons is very long among the top clerics of the country, and the competition is fierce. But sometimes, accidents happen, old sorcerers die unexpectedly on a remote country roads, and the only host available for the old demon would be a chance encounter, a teenage boy who doesn’t know anything more than what his mother taught him.

Penric’s first action in his dealings with his demon is to give the demon a name. He doesn’t know it’s not done. He doesn’t know demons are not supposed to have names. He just knows that it is not polite nor convenient to call anyone: “Hey, demon.” Upon consideration and consultations with his demon, they settle on the name Desdemona. Penric read a story of Desdemona once and liked it, and the demon’s previous dozen hosts all had been women, so the name sticks.

This charming novella offers its readers a wonderfully funny romp and a great new character on the verge of manhood. Characterization is this author’s forte, and Penric’s character shines in this tale. In the beginning of the story, he longs for a small adventure. He never aspired to become a sorcerer or to get entangled in temple politics, but when the grand adventure finds him and the demon jumps into his body, he deals with this new twist in his life with a cool head and a deep compassion for anyone around him, even his demon.

I was enchanted.