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Knot of Shadows, written by Lois McMaster Bujold and self-published on October 22, 2021 as an e-book is a novella in the World of Five Gods set approximately eight months after The Assassins of Thasalon. It has approximately 30000 words.

Publisher's Summary[]

When a corpse is found floating face-down in Vilnoc harbor that is not quite as dead as it seems, Temple sorcerer Penric and his chaos demon Desdemona are drawn into the uncanny investigation. Pen’s keen questions will take him across the city of Vilnoc, and into far more profound mysteries, as his search for truths interlaces with tragedy.

Plot Summary[]

The tale begins on a winter day in Vilnoc, when Penric and his family were enjoying breakfast.

A loud knock on the door brought a strange request for Penric and Desdemona: please come to the Mother's hospital, where a dead man was found to be walking around and moaning. On arrival, Penric looked over the man, who was tied to a bed with indigent patients. The result was nothing he or Desdemona had ever seen, but the diagnosis was straightforward: death magic had been worked on or by him, and now a ghost had taken residence in his body. The ghost was unable to communicate intelligibly, so no help there. A check of the clothing he'd been wearing found only that the clothing consisted of a rather threadbare nightshirt. Penric took up the investigation, seeking to locate the other participant and expecting a ghost to likewise be inhabiting them.

He collected his student Alixtra, and they began by visiting the temple archives to look for death records from sometime in the last two to three days. Since local temples generally sent records to the archives once a week, they were not surprised when that attempt failed. Meanwhile, word of a drowned man recently found in the harbor got around enough that the Customs office sent a junior clerk, Ziah, to find out if this was their missing supervisor, Master Therneas. As it turned out, it was.

Penric took Alixtra and Ziah to Therneas' room; a search determined first that the nightshirt he'd been wearing was not his own. Penric also discovered a large cache of coins apparently stolen from customs hidden under his bed. The three of them brought the cache to customs and explained the situation to Therneas' next-in-command, Lekousa. A conversation with Lekousa about Therneas brought up a year-old recollection of a prior embezzlement charge against a rival of Therneas for the job of leading customs - a young man named Kyem Soudei had been accused, discovered to have a bag of gold in his possession, but suicided in prison before his trial.

Penric sent Alixtra to check Temple records for Therneas and Kyem Soudei while he visited two taverns Therneas had been known to frequent. The tavern visits mainly turned up that he'd been wearing a cloak with a dolphin-patterned cloak-pin. Alixtra found no record of Therneas' interactions with the Temple at all, but she did learn which Temple in Vilnoc Soudei had frequented.

And so the two of them paid a night visit to the temple on Olive Street, in a much poorer area of Vilnoc. The local divine, Learned Retaka, knew the family and where they lived; Kyem had a mother and uncle who'd prayed most earnestly when he was accused and were most embittered upon his death. She also told of a recent matter of a disappeared four-year-old boy named Agno. Their next stop was the home of Otzos and Vissa Soudei, where they discovered that Otzos was hostile and Vissa was a dead woman animated by the ghost of Agno, who was not yet sundered.

So Penric lied to Otzos, convincing him to help them find Agno's body, bringing Vissa (Agno's ghost) along. Searching the neighborhood led to Penric's discovery that Agno had climbed into a sewer and was drowned - he collected the body and took the group to the temple. There they discovered that the Son's representative animal was a wildly friendly dog who terrified Agno. Penric collected a rabbit from the temple's collection of meat animals and gave it to Vissa/Agno to hold. This convinced the boy to accept the Son, thus saving him from sundering. However, Vissa promptly fell over as the dead person she already was. Otzos was upset.

Pen left Otzos to his temple divine and returned home, planning to finish the rest of his investigation the next day. When he woke, he found Nikys had gone shopping with Lin - they returned with the missing pin from Therneas's cloak, which they'd found by visiting a second-hand clothing shop. Pen then went to the shop with the pin, learned that the sellers had been a pair of wharf rat former sailors, and paid them a visit. As it turned out, they'd robbed Therneas's body, then decided they should at least give it a nightshirt of theirs as a shroud and that they might do well to give him a sea burial. Penric spent some morning with them collecting tales and telling them not to rob the dead any more. Upon his return to town, he found an argument going over who should have to deal with Therneas's body - Master Tolga wanted the bed for live patients, but nobody else wanted it. Penric ruled it should be taken by the Duke's people to keep until they felt right to burn it.

One of the magistrates involved in the case then asked Penric to take him to Therneas's rooms so they could be searched more thoroughly; they went, and Penric spent time meditating on what sort of person the gods would not want versus what sort of person would be granted a death miracle. He then realized the core of the matter was not justice, but grace - the granting of such a miracle was to a person in immediate danger of becoming sundered by despair.

Major characters[]

  • Penric kin Jurald
  • Desdemona
  • Acolyte Alixtra
  • Arra
  • Master Tolga
  • Master Therneas

Supporting characters[]

  • Nikys Arisaydia kin Jurald
  • Phylos
  • Kyem Soudei
  • Otzos Soudei
  • Vissa Soudei
  • Agno

Minor characters[]

  • Idrene Gardiki
  • Lin
  • Rina
  • Wyn
  • Learned Sioann
  • Ziah
  • Lekousa
  • Symo
  • Laxo
  • Captain Oxato