Penric and the Shaman is a novella set in Bujold’s World of the Five Gods, a world more thoroughly explored in the Chalion books. It is also the second novella featuring Penric and his demon Desdemona. Fortunately, it doesn’t need the other books to be sensible and can be read on its own, though of course there are elements that will make sense if you are already familiar with the world. I know Bujold gets the most fame for her Vorkosigan Saga, deservedly so, but if I’m honest I think I prefer this fantasy world.
In Penric and the Shaman Penric’s scholarly work is interrupted when he’s assigned to help a Locator (US Marshal) hunt down a shaman suspected of murder. Things are of course far more complex then that, and it looks like the gods have gotten involved in order to help this shaman, the murder victim, as well as an old, experienced shaman in the area the search party goes to.
One of the things I tend to do with fantasy worlds is figure out which part of the world they’re aping and modifying for their basis. This world is probably early Renaissance Italy, with bits of Mediterranean Europe thrown in. Of course, the most important factor in these novels, the religion, is completely new and different. Bujold has managed to create a world where gods interact with humans quite frequently, but still maintain an aura of awesome power and reserve. This is combined with her humor and frenetic characters to create a world that I really enjoy visiting.
I do recommend this one, and if you haven’t read the other books in this series those as well. Or just anything by Bujold really.