Pros: Great style, two characters to really cheer for, and a tight plot.
Cons: Not a one! A great start to a promising series.
I had been holding back on this series of novels, why I haven't a clue, until I had at least three of them to read. This was, clearly, a mistake, as I have discovered -- Lois McMaster Bujold writes so well that missing something is something that I come to regret later.
Along with her Vorkosigan Saga and Chalion novels, she now has created another world for her readers. The Sharing Knife is set in a world that is rather primitive by our standards, where humanity is just regaining a foothold after a terrible cataclysm centuries ago. As to what exactly it was or why it happened, no one is really certain.
Fawn Bluefield is a young woman, running from her family after she's made a very serious blunder with a neighbor's boy that she was infatuated with. But things didn't quite turn out right, and now she's on the road, heading for Glassforge, a town to the south where she wants to find work.
But along the way, she's run into an even bigger problem -- deadly creatures called mud-men, and bandits intent on causing her rape, or worse. When things get to their worst, Dag Redwing, a Lakewalker, is there to help her. Or rather, it's Fawn who helps him in a very unexpected and unusual way. It's an event that binds the pair closely in ways that are going to create a host of problems for them both.
For one, Dag is a Lakewalker, a mysterious people to the farmers that Fawn is from. For another, there are rumours of dark sorcery around them, and rites that involve some pretty unsavoury practices. He's also one handed, and much older than she is, with plenty of unhappiness in his heart.
That doesn't matter to Fawn. She's young and exuberant and alive -- and she trusts him more than anyone else in her life. And the problems that they are facing are more than just personal, it's going to be a tangled mess that both of them will have to unravel before either of them will be at any sort of peace...
Once again, Lois McMaster Bujold has managed to surprise me. Just when I thought I had seen nearly every sort of permutation that a fantasy or romance or adventure novel could take, I got myself gobsmacked once again in amazement. Because this isn't just a fantasy novel -- there are certainly elements of the genre here, from terrifying monsters -- the malice is creepy as all get out -- and supernatural abilities of the Lakewalkers, but there's also plenty of action here as well. The fighting sequences are of the 'hold your breath' variety that will keep you turning the pages, and craving to know what happens next. And romance -- oh my, this book fairly sizzles in the emotional complexity that Bujold can conjure between two people who are very hurt, and very alone and come together.
Dag in particular really struck me here. Here's a man who's been literally through hell and back, several times over, and the way that the author lets us all into his mind and heart is wonderful. He's the sort of character that is smart, inventive, but also a person and not just the usual cliche to be found in fantasy fiction. I'm very happy to know that there are sequels to this book, and that we'll be seeing more of him in the future. Another thing I liked is that Dag has a bit of a handicap here, but Bujold doesn't let that stop him, not by a long shot.
With Fawn's character, it is a coming-of-age story, and she's far from the usual image of a woman in a fantasy novel. She's not the 'tough as the boys,' nor is she a shrinking damsel in need of rescuing either. She's vulnerable in the right spots, and if she's rather naive at the start, by the end of the novel she's well on the way to growing up and maturing.
Along with Dag and Fawn, there are other characters that are just as compelling. Mari, the patrol leader of the Lakewalkers that Dag is with, is very personable, and one that I hope to see more of in the future. So too is Aunt Nattie, Fawn's aunt, who has quite a way with her I must admit. And while Fawn's family is infuriating to be around, they're very recognizable for anyone who has grown up in a large family.
For those out there who want a complex, fast moving story with plenty of emotional punch in the story, this one is for you. While some might think it is just a young adult novel, it does have some very sexual scenes in here (and, whew, did the temperature rise as well!), leave it for the older teens. The subject matter does get rather grisly in spots, but Bujold, thankfully, doesn't linger over them.
Overall, five big stars here, and a knockout punch from Bujold, who's managed to surprise us all again with some great storytelling.
The Sharing Knife series:
Beguilement -- you are here
The Sharing Knife: Beguilement
Lois McMaster Bujold
2006; Eos, HarperCollins Publishing