This is the second book in this excellent series – read my review of The Steerswoman here – and it takes the stakes ever higher and in a fascinating plot twist, this series then acquires a science fiction dimension. I’m not the only one who thinks this author is special – awesome book blogger the Captain over at Captain’s Quarters recently highlighted Rosemary Kirstein in her Broadside series.
Two shining lights hung above, motionless in the night sky as the constellations slowly passed behind them. The common folk knew them well, and used them to count the hours, mark the seasons. But when the steerswoman Rowan discovered a number of broken blue jewels of clearly magical origin, her investigations led to a startling discovery: a Guidestar had fallen. There were more than two; the others hung above the opposite side of the world; something had caused one of those to fall. But what? And what might it mean? Rowan had no answers… But she knew one thing: where the fallen Guidestar was located. To reach it, she must cross the Inner Lands and pass deep into the wild and deadly Outskirts. Rowan’s traveling companion, Bel, is an Outskirter herself. Together the steerswoman and the warrior-poet have a chance of surviving the cruel landscape, the barbarian tribes, and the bizarre native wildlife.
I love this book – Kirstein’s adventurous, intelligent protagonist pings off the page. Steerswomen are constantly on the road, mapping and enquiring about anything that takes their interest – they wear a livery that lets everyone know who they are and the deal is they are bound to honestly answer any question that is put to them. However, if someone refuses to answer one of their questions, they are then entitled to ignore any of their subsequent questions. Rowan has become intrigued by rare blue gems she has noticed – and that interest has put her on a dangerous path.
The Outskirts are known to be hazardous and Rowen is accompanied by Bel, who was born there – which is just as well. The area is full of life-ending traps for the unwary and becomes almost another character, given the detail of this imaginary lethal landscape Kirstein portrays, as Rowan and Bel try to track down where they think the fallen Guidestar may have fallen. We get a ringside seat as the intrepid duo tangle with the insects, fight off demons and goblins and attempt to navigate their way through these hostile grasslands. They also encounter the nomadic tribes that cris-cross the vast terrain and end up travelling with them, sharing their triumphs and their catastrophes as they make their way towards the crash site of the Guidestar.
I’m not in the business of providing spoilers, so I won’t be mentioning more about the story arc – but I haven’t stopped thinking about this one since I completed it. The progression and consequences of what happens left me with my jaw dragging on the ground. I’d already worked out that one of the main supporting characters wasn’t all he seemed – but the climactic conclusion to this leg of Rowan’s travels was so coolly apt, I am raring to get hold of the next book in this superb series.
While this one could easily be read as a standalone, I do recommend you go back and get hold of The Steerswoman – this series is simply too good to skimp. As for me – I’ve got some books I need to read first, but as soon as I’m able, I’m going to revisit this world with The Lost Steersman.