Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Steerswoman series, by Rosemary Kirstein

I wish I could remember which blogger put me on to these books, so I could thank them and send them chocolate and donate to their favourite charity. If you are interested in spec fic that breaks genre conventions and turns tropes on their head, you should look for these books. If you love character-driven stories, ditto. If you like mysteries and books that give you clues and let you put them together yourself, you'll love these. They're adult novels, but not inappropriate for YA readers who like thoughtful stories.

The premise still blows me away: a steerswoman is someone dedicated to the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge; steerswomen travel the world and record their observations, they fill out maps and figure out how things work. Steerswomen are obliged to answer any question with the truth—and in return they demand that any question they ask be answered with the truth. If someone chooses not to answer a steerswoman's question, or lies to one, they are put under ban and no steerswoman will ever answer any question from them again. What an interesting kind of character! What an interesting way to structure the gathering of knowledge!

And what a great inherent conflict between the steerswomen and the wizards, who keep their magic secret and thus are all under ban. When Rowan, the main character, stumbles upon an interesting anomaly that leads her too close to wizards' secrets, they try to kill her. As if that would stop a steerswoman from trying to find things out!

Here's what I had to say on Goodreads about the first book:

An utterly compelling intellectual novel. For me, that's an oxymoron; I'm usually all about the action and adventure. There's action in this one—a bit of swordfighting and things getting blown up, some spying and escaping from castles—but the drama and excitement is all in the main character's thought processes. I love the way Rowan thinks, and I love watching her figure things out! The whole concept of a Steerswoman is just brilliant and lovely and gets me right in the heart. Science, people: this is what science is!

Then there's the delicious dramatic irony when part-way through the reader figures out what's really going on (or, at least, we start to figure it out), but Rowan simply can't—she doesn't have the context required. So there's the plot arc of Rowan doing what she has to do to find out crucial information—information she's interpreting in a certain, dramatically interesting way because it involves a clear threat to her and her way of life—, combined with the fascinating mystery of what's actually going on in the world—which is probably still threatening, but in an entirely different way—and we don't have quite have enough clues to put it all together yet.

I can't be any more specific about the plot without being spoilery, and I think it's fun to stumble upon the truth without being prepared for it. I'm not even using the paperback covers to illustrate my blog post (except for the 3rd one), because I think they give away too much. These are the e-book covers (after they went out of print and she re-published them on her own.)

I also reviewed The Outskirter's Secret, The Lost Steersman, and The Language of Power on Goodreads, if you're interested. I binge-read all four books in less than a week: it's terrible for my personal productivity, but books like this are what I live for!

Rosemary Kirstein deserves to be much better known than she is; I'm perfectly serious when I say she could be the next Ursula K. LeGuin.

Her books are not expensive on Kindle—and I have an ulterior motive in convincing you to buy them: she's still working on Books 5 and 6, and we need to make sure she has food and rent money so she can focus on writing! (I really, really want books 5 and 6!)

I'm making lamb tagine for dinner tonight, and it's a perfect food metaphor: rich, meaty, spicy, complex, interesting enough to be memorable but comforting enough to eat often.

1 comment:

  1. This isn't really my cup of tea, but I have a niece who will eat this up. I will let her know about these. Thanks for the post.