Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Steerswoman's Road

By Rosemary Kirstein, assembly-line worker in a hand-painted watercolor factory, among other things. (She wielded the green brush, if I remember correctly.) This is an omnibus of the first two books in the series, The Steerswoman and The Outskirter's Secret, but this post is really about the first four (out of a planned seven or eight.)

Rowan is a Steerswoman, inquisitive and well-trained. The Steerswomen wander the world, recording observations while answering the questions they're asked. Though they are required to answer, the flip side is that others must answer any questions they ask, or be placed under the Steerswoman's ban and have no question answered ever again.

The first book starts out with Rowan trying to find the origin of some blue jewels that she has found scattered around; oddly, her seemingly harmless quest ignites extreme opposition from the secretive wizards who, incidentally, are almost all under the Steerswoman's ban.

It's hard to say more about the story without giving too much away (the author releases major clues about the world very slowly, on the rate of about one per book), but they are all very enjoyable. Though the genre is labeled as fantasy, it is obvious early on that the magic of the wizards is strikingly similar to... something else. Despite the slow progress of the overarching plot and the revelations about the world, the story shines in the small details of life and especially of Rowan's process of discovery; as someone else said, "She writes so well about the way that people think."

It's also true that you can read one without having read the others; I started with the fourth one, which was the only one on the shelves at the library, and enjoyed it before going back to start from the first one. The author does a good job putting some kind of plot in each book, although almost every answer revealed leads to more questions.

Oddly, despite the confrontations and violence which occur in several scenes, these are fairly relaxing books and, as I said, fun to read. I recommend them.

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