I was delighted to once more dive into this wonderful series – and it didn’t disappoint…
How do you find someone? How, if you have never seen him, never heard him described, did not know where he lived? How, if he wished not to be found? And how, most especially, if he were the most powerful wizard in the world?
The steerswoman Rowan has discovered that the fall of the Guidestar and the massacre of Outskirter tribes were caused by one man: the secret master-wizard, Slado. But until now, no steerswoman had known of his existence, nor knew that the wizards answered to any single authority. Now, Rowan must find him. She comes to the seaside town of Alemeth, where centuries of records might help her find clues for her search. Then, an unexpected encounter with a lost friend: Janus, a steersman who had resigned his membership in the Steerswomen, giving no explanation. Now Rowan has hope for help in her search — but Janus has changed. The bright intellect is shrouded in a dark, shattered spirit…
This book absolutely filled the brief of completely absorbing me from the first page to the last, which I finished once more blown away by where Kirstein has taken this amazing series.
I love Rowan. She is a strong, capable protagonist who is consumed with curiosity about the world around her – which is why she trained to be a Steerswoman in the first place. Steerwomen undertake long, arduous journeys mapping and logging the landscape and are bound to answer any questions put to them by the local populace, unless someone refuses to answer one of their questions. So part explorer, cartographer, naturalist and educator… It’s a really nifty plot device to get a skilled, capable cadre of people out on the road without resorting to war. Over the last three books, I’ve come to be aware of her weaknesses as well as her strengths. She has an over-developed sense of responsibility and is poor at delegating jobs to others – and while she is good at moving through a landscape and keeping on good terms with the people around her, she tends to hold herself somewhat aloof.
This means that once she arrives in Alemeth, where the retired Steerswoman has recently died and they are awaiting a replacement – the villagers contrast her unfavourably with chatty, manipulative Mira. I love the fact that all these books can be read as a standalone without too much difficulty – however if you do read them in the right order (and for a wonder, this time around I have…) then they stitch together to build into a coherent adventure where the consequences of not tracking down Slado could be devastating. However, there is a wrinkle – once Rowan arrives, the village is attacked by a creature never seen before in those parts… I’m not saying any more as I do not want to venture into spoiler territory – but suffice to say that I’m so very impressed at the sheer peculiarity of the creatures that populate her fantasy landscape, along with the flora. Kirstein has built an amazingly detailed and plausible world without holding up the pace.
The twisting turns in this adventurous tale take meant that I stayed up late to read this one – it’s a reasonably substantial read at well over 400 pages, but they more or less turned themselves as I was desperate to know what happened next. This particular story arc was satisfactorily brought to a close – but the overarching narrative has now got an additional disturbing and dangerous strand which has added to the worldwide threat.
I have been spacing these books out, as I didn’t want to reach the end too quickly – but I am delighted to note that Kirstein is working on the fifth and sixth book in the series. Yippee! Highly recommended for all fans of excellent fantasy.