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.)