The Lost Steersman

September 7th, 2006
This entry is part of 1 in the series The Steerswomen
  • The Lost Steersman

Many, many years ago, I was stranded somewhere dreadfully rural and had run out of reading material. At a gas station or a grocery store or someplace of that sort, I found a dismal few paperbacks and even fewer in my genres of choice. If memory serves, I bought all three of them, and two of them turned out to be worthwhile. Stith’s Redshift Rendezvous was the other one, but the book this review is connected to was Kirstein’s The Outskirter’s Secret, which (IIRC) had a typically dismal DKS cover of a medieval-ish swordswoman confronting a bloody obvious crashed satellite with a typically DKS unidentifiable expression on her face. But I still bought it, and re-read it several times for its interesting depiction of a rational-minded and strong heroine in a technologically degenerated, ecologically fascinating human settlement just beginning to figure out how the world works. Unfortunately, I could never find the book which preceded it, The Steerswoman, and so I eventually sold it. Then, a few years ago, Koz reviewed The Steerswoman’s Road, a (then) recently published omnibus of the first two books by Kirstein (remarkable how similar his experience with The Outskirter’s Secret was), which reminded me of the book and put it on my “To Read” list. Sure enough, having both books together in one volume made the story about 10 times more coherent and interesting than just muddling through a sequel on its own, and so I added the (already available) sequel to my list, but didn’t actually pick it up and read it until earlier this year. In short, I found it pleasant and interesting, if not quite so aggressively unique as the first book(s?). Our story begins quite some time after the conclusion of the first volume, with Rowan the Steerswoman having, for various reasons, to settle temporarily in a seemingly sleepy seaside town on the Eastern edge of civilization while she researches looking for clues about what she encountered in the Outskirts and hints as to where the enigmatic wizard Slado has secreted himself. Perhaps needless to say, it doesn’t stay sleepy for long. Within days of her arrival, Rowan encounters Janus, mentioned briefly in the previous book as one of the few male members of the Steerswomen and an even more rare instance of someone leaving the organization and alienating themselves from it by refusing to explain why they had done so. Rowan and Janus trained together, and she does her best despite the difficult circumstances to rekindle their friendship and restore him to being a proper Steersman again. Then things really go pear-shaped, as Alemeth is attacked by a plague of “Demons,” fearsome creatures that Rowan had encountered in the Outskirts; creatures that should never be venturing this far into settled lands, much less in waves of increasing number. Attempting to resolve this crisis leads Rowan to a solution that seems to tie in to her search for Slado and Janus’ mysterious resignation, but the reality is something quite different (and, frankly, much more interesting). I’m really enjoying this series thus far, although not without some minor complaints. There’s a pretty transparent issue with character naming, with “Rowan” itself being one of the most overused genre names (although I’m not sure why), with her good friend “Bel,” and now the duplicitous “Janus.” I fully expect to be introduced to a short-lived character named “Cassandra” in the next book. Aside from that, however, Kirstein is producing really interesting, well-plotted, character-driven science fiction with world building that seems to just grow more and more impressive and an over-all emphasis on the importance and benefits of a rational worldview and intellectual curiosity. Highly recommended.

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