This a delightful summer read; this novella is set in Bujold's world of the Sharing Knife series. Lakewalker Barr, returning from a grueling patrol for malices, horrid leftovers of a mage war, decides to visit the daughter he had very early on in his career and with whom he's had little personal contact. The mother Bluebell had married a farmer before the baby's birth. The parents knew Lily's paternal line but raised her as one of their own with their other children.
Before returning to his camp, Barr decides to check in on Lily and Bluebell, only to find out she'd run away at home. Lily is fourteen now and capable, but still too young to wander off into the wilds untrained and unknowing of the magical dangers that lurked in the shadows. Barr tracks her down and finds her alone in the woods with her mount.
Herein starts an uneasy relationship. Barr doesn't start off telling her he's her biological father, he takes things slow as he just wants to get her home safely back to Bluebell's farm. But Lily doesn't want to return as she feels she's been blamed for her younger brother's death in a barn fire. Everyone was certain she lied by blaming the disaster on her younger brother's carelessness and not taking responsibility for keeping an eye on him. No one outright holds her responsible for his death, but the undercurrents say otherwise, and off she goes. She is, after all, a young woman now, and is beginning to show signs of her father's magical abilities.
Barr and she take a slow meander back to her home, though Lily really doesn't want to return. The easy-going Barr is a man of few words which suits the situation well. He lets Lily say what she wants and listens, commenting when needed.
Their amble comes to a halt when Barr senses a malice nearby. There is no one to take care of it but him. And a malice cannot be left for later because the chaos and death it causes is catastrophic. It infects creatures and makes them vicious and overpowering. Reluctantly he goes after it. He tries to make Lily stay away as he closes in on it, but of course she doesn't. It's a good thing too.
As Barr takes on one of the malice's coterie of brutal mudmen, another mudman rises up, but Lily picks up a log and whacks it to pulp before it can attack Barr.
The two make their getaway at last, but Barr has sustained injuries and Lily has been poisoned by the mudmen's evil air. So instead of the farm, the two make off for Pearl Rifle, the closest Lakewalker patrol camp. Not only do they need help, but the camp needs to destroy the nest created by the malice.
Once settled in at Pearl Rifle, Barr and Lily need time to recover, and, discover more about each other. In the meantime, a messenger has been sent to Lily's family. This is the most entertaining part of the novella because the characters drive the tale. Lily learns about who she is, the burgeoning powers she has gotten from her father, and Barr learns about Lily's skills and desires.
The pace is just a perfect afternoon's read. Barr and Lily's personalities unfold, as does the life of the camp pulling the novella to a neat conclusion. Barr even has the time to find a new love. It all ends satisfyingly well. ~~ Sue Martin
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