The third book in Rosemary Kirstein’s Steerswoman series, The Lost Steersman, is as excellently absorbing as the prior books. It’s true that it doesn’t much advance the plot set up to date, but I enjoyed what it does do so much that I don’t actually care. Mileage may vary, of course, especially for those who waited more than a decade for this book and didn’t have the fourth sitting on their shelf waiting for them.
Rowan is looking for clues to the location of the mysterious wizard Slado. In the town of Alemeth, she finds three things: a Steerswomen’s archive in shambles; a community attacked by acid-spraying demons on an increasing frequency; and Janos, a former Steersman who resigned suddenly and is now under ban for refusing to explain why.
I have some reservations about the plot of this book, but they are overshadowed by the wonderfully strange and difficult turn it takes in the last quarter or so. First, it manages a remarkable tone shift to an almost dream-like state, which I found impressive by itself. And then its revelations complicate things so well and so fascinatingly that I’d forgive quite a bit more in the way of plot issues. Certainly Kirstein is making an eventual resolution to the series more difficult for herself, but for now I admire that and am willing to take the chance that she’s bit off more than she can chew. (Reports that she has discovered the need to write another book between the published fourth and what was to be the fifth, the completed City in the Crags, do cause me some concern, I admit.)
The other thing I note about this book is that, like the first, it incorporates another point of view. Steffie is a villager who helps at the archive and gives more insight into how Steerswomen are perceived by outsiders. His point of view is more successfully integrated that the one in the first book, but I still found it mildly jarring.
What else can I say? If you like speculative fiction, you should be reading this series.