[LMB] SP: My thoughts on Penric's Mission (long with spoilers galore)

Matthew George matt.msg at gmail.com
Mon Nov 7 17:37:22 GMT 2016

I mean it, lots and lots of spoilers
Okay, let's begin.

I can't help but notice that "Penric's Mission" contains all the elements
of a comic book superhero origin.  You have masks, leaping between
buildings, creeping around in the dead of night, injustices meted out by
powerful people beyond normal redress, false imprisonment, daring escapes,
"you're supposed to be dead!", marks left on people's foreheads,
confronting villains from atop high perches - even the double intitial of
Adelis Arisaydia.  But the elements are all broken up and rearranged
between multiple people and situations.

I kept being reminded of the old Zorro radio series (rather than say,
Batman or Wonder Woman).  Possibly because alternate Greece shares some
characteristics with fantasy Mexico.

Remarkable that this is possibly the first 5GW story in which no god
appears or even seems to take any obvious action.  No events in PM
obviously involve divine intervention.  Desdemona's actions are clearly
paranormal, but they're not mysterious to the readers or even the
characters (once they all find out about her) in the same way that the
gods' actions are.

I suspect there are more limits to a demon's powers than the ability of a
human body to contain chaos.  You pay for creating an order by expending a
greater order - an air conditioner cools one room by expelling an even
greater amount of heat, but you have to look it up to a source of very
ordered energy for it to do anything at all.  Des' desperate Penric-healing
must have consumed a very potent source of order indeed to have caused that
large a landslide.  If demons could just produce order and chaos as needed,
among other consequences, sorcerers could amp their spells by injuring
themselves and letting the reordering of the injury generate lots of potent
chaos to throw at people.

I think she must have been consuming Penric's stored bodily energy.
Perhaps the energy from the rusted knife (back in "Penric's Demon") was
used to create so much fire so rapidly.

If Nikys would have been Des' new host, perhaps there are reasons sorcerers
tend not to marry or have close relationships.

How are all these names pronounced?  Ferex the Greek winged spirit of
victory, Nike, is pronounced roughly "nai-kee".  So what about Nikys?  I
think the 'y' tends to indicate a short-i 'ih' sound, like in sit or hip.
The first i?  It could be the 'ai' diphthong, or the long-i 'ee'.  But that
second possibility renders her name 'knee-kihs', which while motherly seems
a little silly.  Especially as the poor woman has absolutely no power to
kiss it and make it better.  "nai-kihs" seems more suitable.

I laughed out loud at "You're worse than evil - you're inefficient!"
So gloriously engineer-y.

I recently reread Ursula K. Le Guin's *The Lathe of Heaven*, and was struck
by both how similar in some elements yet different in subtle style she is
from Ms. Bujold.  In Bujold books, there may be mysteries and surprises,
but the world is a very rationalistic one.  We know what events signify,
and it's ultimately clear how the author is presenting the various events.
I defy anyone to provide a definitive explanation for how we're supposed to
interpret (for example) Dr. Haber's catatonia.  When stuff happens to
Bujoldian characters, we know why in a thematic sense.  So Tepelen-Velka's
death 'makes sense' - he had a bunch of warnings, and ignored them.  We
know why he was 'evil', or at least a person whose example we're not
supposed to follow.  In LoH it's never certain to anyone what's going on or
even what the nature of reality is.

There's a very definite model of evil - or worse-than-evil - being
presented, and it's quite clear.  The message is unambiguous, if the
application is of course difficult and complicated.  As opposed to Le Guin,
where the message itself tends to be subject to interpretation (there are

All knowledge may be founded on mystery, ultimately, but that kind of
uncertainty isn't an element of Bujoldian stories, and I think that's a
characteristic and defining feature.

Cedonia is most definitely a mix of Roman Empire and ancient Greece; if it
didn't rise so high as the Rome, its fall is at least taking longer.  I
found myself thinking of Tolkien again, and his views on imperialism as
showcased in Faramir.

Matt "why'd they want an empire in the first place?" G.

spoilers above, don't read up

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