Pros: I thought I knew all about malices from the earlier novels. I was wrong.
Cons: Oh, I hope this isn't the last novel in the series.
These last six months I've been happily immersing myself in the most recent series by author Lois McMaster Bujold, The Sharing Knife. This last week, the fourth volume in the series, Horizon was released in hardbound. I had pre-ordered it some time ago from Amazon, and when it landed on my doorstep, I dove in happily.
Set in a world that feels very much like the American Midwest, The Sharing Knife series tells of two very different cultures existing side by side. The farmers are just that, raising crops and basic technology, and giving part of their harvests to the Lakewalkers. The Lakewalkers are semi nomadic, living in their camps and sending out patrols to hunt down what are known as malices, remnants of ancient magic that create blight, stealing life-force to create their terror. Both cultures view each other with a great deal of suspicion, farmers seeing Lakewalkers as masters of dark sorcery, and even darker habits, and the Lakewalkers in turn looking down on the farmers as not-too-bright, and most of the time as a nuisance.
As with the previous books in the series, Horizon started right about where Passage left off. Lakewalker Dag and his wife, Fawn, a farmer, have arrived in Greymouth, Dag having fulfilled his promise to show Fawn the Southern Sea. They had traveled by flatboat down the Grace and Grey Rivers, having met up with Berry and her crew manning their flatboat, and having sundry adventures along the way. A tight bond has formed among the group, composed not just of flatboaters, and Dag and Fawn, but also with Fawn's brother Whit, and two Lakewalkers, Remo and Barr. Now Berry and Whit are getting married before starting their own way back up north, and it looks as though the small group is breaking up for a time.
Dag and Fawn with Remo and Barr in tow, head off to Half Moon Cutoff, a Lakewalker camp nearby to meet with Arkady Whitebirch, a maker who is very skilled in healing who just might be able to help Dag comprehend and use his newly discovered making gifts. To say that it isn't going to be easy is a bit of an understatement. Throughout their journeys, Fawn and Dag have both been fighting a struggle for understanding from their respective cultures, and it's going to prove to be no different in this Lakewalker camp.
Interestingly enough, Arkady is very open to helping Dag, seeing a true kindred spirit here, and there's a great deal for both Fawn and Dag to learn. But when Dag goes to help a nearby farmer family whose young son has a case of lockjaw, things escalate out of hand very quickly and the pair not only find themselves on the road again, but also reunited with their former companions. And there's an additional complication -- Fawn is pregnant...
Oh my goodness. I found Horizon to be one of those novels that grabs you from the onset and simply does not let go until the finish. This was one that I could not put down until I had discovered what happens next. And this time, Ms. Bujold packs quite a punch in her story. From conflicts between farmers and Lakewalkers, to revealing more about the healing arts, and the basic nature of malices, there are new discoveries in this novel. Along the way, the introduction of a new character into the mix, Arkady, is a real treasure -- he's a person that I just plain like, along with a backstory that is a real surprise. Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention Dag's niece as well.
But then, that's a real trait among Ms. Bujold's novels. Each one is carefully crafted, complicated in what they have to say about human nature, and with plenty of adventure and heart-stopping action along the way. She avoids the pitfalls of having characters that are too perfect, and never does she forget that in order to create a convincing system of magic, there always has to be a cost of some sort to those who choose to use it.
This time, the cast of characters is rather large, what with the party that Dag and Fawn find themselves shepherding along the Tripoint Trace, a trail that stretches overland through the Barrens and the mountains south of the Grace River. I thought that in the previous novels that Bujold had revealed a lot about malices, but this time, not only was I scared out of my wits, but the tension in the final third of the novel is ratcheted up to where the reader isn't going to want to stop. But the main thrust of the story remains Fawn and Dag and their relationship, and that is what keeps drawing me back to these novels, as well as the excellent quality of the writing.
I found very little to disappoint me in this one, and happily Fawn isn't just the chief cook and bottle washer in this story, and she reveals herself as a very determined soul, and her relationship with Dag is a joy to read.
There is one caveat here, you really need to have read the previous three novels in this series in order for the nuances in this one to come through, and to have some of the action and motivations make sense. Don't worry, the earlier books are just as exciting as this one, and I intend to be having these ready for a reread sometime later on this year.
Four and half stars for this one, rounded up to a solid five star rating. Happily recommended.
The Sharing Knife Series:
Horizon - you are here
The Sharing Knife: Horizon
Lois McMaster Bujold
2009; Eos, HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.