Ahoy there mateys! A long while back in 2017, Matey Sarah @ brainfluff reminded me that these books existed. I had read them and owned them in an omnibus form. I have no idea where I got this omnibus but both books were five stars reads. What I never knew was that there were two more books published in the series. Even since Matey Sarah told me that, I have been determined to re-read the first two books in preparation for reading the newest two. I gobbled these up in a couple of days and absolutely loved them all over again. So dang good.
The highlight is exactly what I remembered. As I previously said, ” In me early sci-fi and fantasy reading, it was hard to find women as main characters, much less strong, intelligent ones.” This book has not one, but two, amazing female characters. And lots and lots of other secondary ones.
One is a steerswoman named Rowan who is the member of “an order dedicated to discovering and disseminating knowledge.” This order is almost all women. Men are very, very rare. A steerswoman shares her knowledge for free and does not lie. All she asks in return is that if she asks any question then it must be freely answered. Don’t answer and a steerwoman’s knowledge is cut off forever. Steerswoman are intelligent, respected, and awesome. They are in control of their own destiny, travel constantly, and better the world.
Then there is Bel, the Outskirter. The Outskirters are barbarian nomad tribes that live on the edges of civilized land. Bel is a female warrior who is fierce and also awesome. She and Rowan end up traveling together and their friendship is one of the highlights of the book. Even though Bel is considered uncultured, Rowan’s friendship with her proves time and time again how dangerous it is to rely on stereotypes and assumptions. Intelligent people can have backward thinking and barbarians can be nuanced and advanced.
The book starts out with a simple idea. Rowan has found a unusual stone that seems to be magic. She sets out to figure out where the stones came from and what their purpose is. But as she and Bel travel, the stones bring about bigger questions and problems. Wizards, assassins, and plots abound.
The first book takes place in Rowan’s homeland. The second book takes place in Bel’s. The most interesting part is how the women switch places. Rowan’s intelligence and skills cause her to be the natural leader in the first book. In the second, Rowan is out of her league and has to learn from the tribes. It was fascinating to watch them switch roles and see what each learned from their experiences.
As the two books progress, the fantasy starts to have sci-fi hints. I adore that. These books are especially amazing given that they were written in 1989. I only wish that women were treated so well in our current era. I cannot wait to read the next two. Arrrrr!
Goodreads has this to say about the omnibus:
If you ask, she will answer. If she asks, you must reply. A steerswoman will speak only the truth to you, as long as she knows it—and you must do the same for her. And so, across the centuries, the Steerswomen— questioning, searching, investigating—have slowly learned more and more about the world through which they wander. All knowledge the Steerswomen possess is given freely to those who ask. But there is one kind of knowledge that has always been denied them: Magic.
When the steerswoman Rowan discovers a small, lovely blue jewel of obviously magical origin, her innocent questions lead to secret after startling secret, each more dangerous than the last—and suddenly Rowan must flee or fight for her life. Or worse, she must lie.
With every wizard in the world searching for her, Rowan finds unexpected assistance. A chance-met traveler turned friend, Bel is a warrior-poet, an Outskirter, and a member of a barbaric and violent people. Or, so it would seem.
For Bel, unknowing, possesses secrets of her own: secrets embedded in her culture, in her people, in the very soil of her homeland. From the Inland Sea to the deadly Outskirts, surrounded by danger and deceit, Rowan and Bel uncover more and more of the wizards’ hidden knowledge. As the new truths accumulate, they edge closer to the single truth that lies at the center, the most unexpected secret of them all. . . .
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