The longer review: Readers often give the novella short shrift as a literary form. It’s too long to read easily in one sitting and not long enough to make a satisfying novel-variety reading experience. It’s also hard to write. You need a single plot line that’s rich enough to sustain the length but doesn’t meander off into the subplots and so forth that give a novel its complexity.
All that is prelude to the deliciousness of a Bujold novella. To say she’s a master of her craft is an understatement, also that she has the ability to take what seems to be a simple enough proposition (in this case, tracking down a murder suspect) and imbuing it with emotional resonance. Her work rarely leaves me unmoved, and this one is no different. She manages to bring the reader into her world of five gods, shamans and sorcerers and spirit animals (as a dog lover, I adored what she did with more-dog and Great Beast dog) and ordinary folk without ever inflicting massive backstory or infodump. The richness of this world and its potential for powerful human stories never fails to amaze me. The alternative viewpoint characters (Penric, a sorcerer-divine who is host to demon Desdemona, who carries the memories of all her previous partners; Locator Oswyl, beset by his own rigid sense of honor and his limited abilities; and Inglis, a shaman now bereft of his powers, struggling to keep the ghost of his best friend from being eternally sundered from grace, at the cost of his own blood) provide both close-up emotional intimacy and a wider perspective of events. Did I say I loved the dogs. And the ghosts. And the demon. And the dogs.