Penric's Demon was nominated for a Hugo award this year, so I intend to read it as I do as many of the nominees as possible. There are two questions I faced with this work, as with others: 1) This is a later work in a series where I haven't read the earlier works. Do I catch it up or not? 2) The chronological sequence of the story is not the order in which it was written--in what order should the books be read?
I faced both of these back when I started reading Hugo novel nominees and one of the Miles Vorkosigan Saga books was nominated. It's a highly decorated series, so I decided to catch it up and was not at all sorry--search this blog for all my reviews. That series was also not completely in chronological order. What I've found in these cases is that the changes in how the author tells the story make more difference than the chronological sequence of the story itself--the author matures the series as it is written. So I read the works in the order they were written if possible.
So I am going back first to review The Curse of Chalion, and will work forward to Penric's Demon. And I can say I'm looking forward to completing the series (called the World of the Five Gods by Goodreads.com).
In many ways I would have to say that Bujold wrote this book at the height of her powers (it was published in 2000). It's a beautifully constructed book, with the plot building effectively all the way through. This work would be classified as a romantic fantasy novel. The protagonist, Cazaril, is in some respects similar to Miles Vorkosigan, in that he bears physical challenges that render him not much to look at--in this case they are war and captivity wounds rather than a birth defect. But Cazaril is different enough from Vorkosigan in that, while born to power as Vorkosigan is, he doesn't want it the same way.
Cazaril was betrayed in a war and enslaved, where he received his wounds. After his release he wants nothing more than to be anonymous, but that's not how things work out. He ends up a pawn of the gods as he works out how he can lift a terrible curse on the royal family of Chalion. For a more complete plot summary you can read the book jacket.
The centerpiece here is the very appealing Cazaril. He may be beat up but he is a man of wisdom and honor, which makes him highly appealing to discerning friends and royal ladies alike. He serves his royal charge, the Royesse Iselle, as faithfully and effectively as anyone could ask. Bujold displays his sagacity and capability effectively as she tells an exciting tale.
She also paints him effectively as one overwhelmed by his connection to one of the gods. This is particularly well shown in the epilogue chapters, where he tries to describe all that he's been through.
I give it four stars and recommend it highly if you have not read the series. Go enjoy it.