It’s Monday. Thus, verily, ’tis time for the SBD.
I’ve been trying for more than a week to write about Bujold’s The Sharing Knife Volume 4: Horizon. Everytime I set pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, all tha comes out is a gush of Bujold-love. [I can get a prescription to fix that C says. Haha, so funny. Not.]
Even if I could get it together enough to write a thoughtful review, I would necessarily have to give spoilers for the first three volumes of the series. While a reader could pick up Horizon and muddle through it, the book is best read after reading books one, two and three. Or volume three at the very least.
Background: this is fantasy, but not "high" fantasy with courts and mages in European-like lands with castles. Instead, the world is a wilderness rather like the Ohio River valley of the 17th or 18th century. Lakewalkers hunt malices, earth-born mages who steal ground, or life-force. Their weapons: sharing knives, made of the bones of their loved ones, carrying in turn their own mortality, which when stabbed into a malice teaches it how to die. Farmers are settlers without any defense against malices. Gradually moving northward to clear fresh ground, they are fertile fodder for malices but at the same time are suspicious of the mysterious and "cannibalistic" Lakewalkers, who hold themselves apart and who the Farmers believe just don’t want to share the bounty of the unsettled land.
Book One (Beguilement): Farmer Fawn meets Lakewalker Dag and slays a malice. The two fall in love and marry, after gaining the approval of Fawn’s Farmer family.
Book Two (Legacy): Fawn and Dag travel to Dag’s home camp, hoping that their marriage will be accepted. Dag returns to patrolling for malices, and what his patrol encounters demonstrates what can happen when Farmers aren’t warmed or don’t believe in malices — it has serious consequences for both Farmers and Lakewalkers.
Book Three (Passage): Dag and Fawn are back on the road. Or rather, the river. Dag is troubled by the malice outbreak that occured in the last book, and they use this wedding trip down the Grace and Grey Rivers to the sea to seek answers about how the problem can be solved.
Book Four (Horizon): Picks up immediately after Book Three, with Dag and Fawn struggling to find a way to bend the two worlds together.
While the series is not genre romance, it is romantic fantasy. The two of them are looking for a place to belong together. At the same time, Dag is looking to remake himself. Fawn remakes herself as well, but the transformation seems…I don’t want to say less violent, because it was, but her transformation, after the first book, is a much more tradition one, one of growing into herself. Dag’s is rather like a snow globe — everything had settled, but then someone (Fawn) came along and shook everything to the foundation, and when things settled again eventually, they were utterly different. And as the two travel, they pick up and build what is really a family of sorts — others who have been abandoned, cast out, or who are seekign something else themselves, even if they don’t know exactly what.
Well-paced, well-plotted, with adventure and humor and some sadness as well, this book is the best book of the year so far for me.
I would LOVE to read more set in this world, and hope that eventually Bujold returns to it, either to write about future generations of Lakewalkers and Farmers, or perhaps to write about the civilization that preceded them and is hinted at in Lakewalker legends.
In a world where malices—remnants of ancient magic—can erupt with life-destroying power, only soldier-sorcerer Lakewalkers have mastered the ability to kill them. But Lakewalkers keep their uncanny secrets—and themselves—from the farmers they protect, so when patroller Dag Redwing Hickory rescued farmer girl Fawn Bluefield, neither expected to fall in love, join their lives in marriage, or defy both their kin to seek new solutions to the perilous split between their peoples.
As Dag’s maker abilities have grown, so has his concern about who—or what—he is becoming. At the end of a great river journey, Dag is offered an apprenticeship to a master groundsetter in a southern Lakewalker camp. But as his understanding of his powers deepens, so does his frustration with the camp’s rigid mores with respect to farmers. At last, he and Fawn decide to travel a very different road—and find that along it, their disparate but hopeful company increases.
Fawn and Dag see that their world is changing, and the traditional Lakewalker practices cannot hold every malice at bay forever. Yet for all the customs that the couple has challenged thus far, they will soon be confronted by a crisis exceeding their worst imaginings, one that threatens their Lakewalker and farmer followers alike. Now the pair must answer in earnest the question they’ve grappled with since they killed their first malice together: When the old traditions fail disastrously, can their untried new ways stand against their world’s deadliest foe?Available in hardcopy and ebook.
Available in hardcopy and ebook. Excerpt of the first several chapters here.
Also, the book pimp has struck again. I got a colleague who does not like fantasy to read the excerpt of TSK: Volume One, and she immediately downloaded a copy to her Kindle. Hah! But I have to ask — why does Amazon have the first and third volumes available for Kindle, but not the second and fourth?