Kirstein, Rosemary: (01) The Steerswoman

I finally got around to reading Rosemary Kirstein’s The Steerswoman (recently reprinted as the first half of The Steerswoman’s Road) because the collective wisdom of LJ agreed, quite rightly, that it was the cure I needed for readerly blahs.

Steerswomen are a professional organization who gather knowledge about the world, mapping, charting, and analyzing as they travel. They must answer any question put to them—as long as the asker has not refused to answer a steerswoman’s question and thereby come under a lifelong ban. Wizards are the only group to scorn steerswomen en masse, and as a result the steerswomen know little of magic. And when a steerswoman named Rowan begins investigating some peculiar, possibly-magical jewels, she discovers that the wizards are willing to kill to keep their secrets . . .

For some of the potential readers of this book, all I have to say is “protagonist whose vocation is the scientific method.” (Watching her gradually work out the idea of orbit is one of my favorite parts of the book. Lest I give the impression that it’s all dry and intellectual, I also really like the swarming dragons.) For others, I could add the words “strong female” to the beginning; or “and whose principal relationship is a straightforward friendship with another woman” to the end. And then there’s the spoiler, but one that’s reasonably well known about the series and also the kind of thing that (I hope) tells you whether this is a book for you (ROT-13, see sidebar): gur jvmneqf ner npghnyyl hfvat grpuabybtl.

This book has fascinating worldbuilding, excellent control of its tight-third point of view, good pacing, and interesting and engaging characters. I have only a couple of small quibbles: I would have liked more lead-up to one aspect of the ending, and the introduction of a new point of view after about a hundred pages is startling (and I’m not sure if it was necessary). It broke the readerly blahs perfectly, and though I’m putting the series aside to read some potential Hugo nominees, I look forward to getting back to the other three published books. (A total of seven are projected.)


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  1. I’m so glad you liked it! I just love how careful and sure the worldbuilding is, and I especially love Rowan and watching her work and think. It doesn’t sound exciting, but it really is.

  2. Yes–calling that “dry” was inaccurate, because that joy of understanding is so well done.

  3. It isn’t dry in the same way (and for the same reason) that Asimov’s non-fiction isn’t.

  4. I enjoyed The Steerswoman greatly. However, I live in fear that the series will (a) never come to any sort of closure, or worse (b) jump the shark completely before it gets there.
    The next book will (IMHO) be a critical turning point in both regards, and I see no sign of its impending arrival. Argh. I would actually recommend NOT racing to catch up with the series, only to dangle like the rest of us.

  5. Mmm, but on the other hand, if I wait and the next book jumps the shark, I’ll have the older ones more firmly associated with the newest. So, six of one . . .
    OTOH I am deep in possible-Hugo-nominee reading right now and it won’t be an issue for some time.

  6. I would like to register a complaint. I picked up Steerswoman;s Road on the strength of your reviews, and have accomplished absolutely nothing for the last 36 hours except to get hooked on an unfinished series.

  7. Oh dear. Sorry?
    (And sorry your comment got temporarily held–shouldn’t happen again.)

  8. Actually, that was my way of saying “many, many thanks!”, which in hindsight could have been better phrased…

  9. Drat that tone thing! I got it, but failed to stick a smiley on to convey that I did (also drat that hurrying-to-get-out-of-house thing).
    Anyway, no smileys necessary: glad you enjoyed them!

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