An improvement on the first book, Penric and the Demon, the shaman’s story picks up four years later. Penric has finished school and is working for the Princess-Archdivine. There’s been a murder, and Penric and Desmonda have been sent to aid the Locater Oswyl to find the chief suspect, Inglis the shaman. Penric is very interested in learning more about shamanic magic while Inglis is struggling with his own metaphorical demons.
I had fully expected this book was going to be Penric at the magic academy, so was surprised to pick up the story four years in advance of the first book. Once I accepted the new and more decisive Penric as part of the new status quo, it was easier to enjoy the story.
The shaman’s story has a dual plot line, shifting between focus on the shaman and on Oswyl and Penric’s search. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of context for the shamanic story, picking up in media res of him on the run. This might be Bujold’s way of maintaining suspense as to whether or not Inglis is the murderer. At any rate, eventually it all becomes clear.
The style reminds me very much of Mercedes Lackey’s By the Sword and early Valdemar series. There’s very much a set of core values operating here; everyone is sincere, honest and courageous. It’s refreshing, honestly, when there are so many anti-heroes and moral dilemmas. It goes down quickly and easily, a pleasant little diversion. On to the next.