The Physicians of Vilnoc
reviewed by Pam Guynn
The Physicians of Vilnoc by Lois McMaster Bujold is the eighth book in the Penric and Desdemona series. Bujold brings great characters and world-building to this suspenseful fantasy. Penric (Pen) is a temple sorcerer and shares his body with a 200-year-old chaos demon he has named Desdemona (Des).
In return, Des gifts him with powers as a Temple Sorcerer and the knowledge she has gained over her lifetime. A mysterious illness breaks out at the army fort guarding Vilnoc and General Arisaydia (Pen’s brother-in-law) asks him to use his medical skills to aid the sick. Is it a contagion or contamination? Can magic even help?
Pen and Des are a somewhat odd duo, but the interactions between them sets a great tone. Pen’s family dynamics are also evolving and it will be exciting to see how that grows in future books in the series. The characters are complex and definitely people you can root for and their goals and motivations are well-drawn.
The plot is suspenseful and generally fast-paced. The prose is well-written and entertaining. Bujold does a great job of world-building and this book is no exception to that. Some readers may have a problem reading about a potential plague with everything that has happened and still is happening with Covid-19. However, I was immediately drawn into the situation and was trying to help Pen solve the cause of the illness. Can it even be cured? What is its source? Will Pen succumb to the illness?
While this short novel (or long novella) doesn’t have as much in the way of action as most of the author’s books have, it is suspenseful and gives Pen a different type of challenge. It also shows how stressful the situation can be for medical personnel as well as those that are sick and their families. Additional themes include religious dynamics, family, collegial respect, superstitious fears, magic, fatigue, stress, and suspicion of those that are different from oneself.
Overall, this was a quick and enjoyable novel that reminded me once again why I enjoy reading books by Bujold, one of my favorite authors. I look forward to reading more of this series and recommend it to those that enjoy well-written fantasy. While the book worked for me as a standalone, it would likely be even better if the series is read in order. I recommend that readers start with book one of the series to get the most entertainment out of the novels.
Many thanks to Subterranean Press and Lois McMaster Bujold for a complimentary digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley and the opportunity to provide an honest review. Opinions are mine alone and are not biased in any way. Publication date is currently expected to be July 31, 2021.