Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Horizon by Lois McMaster Bujold

Last month, I received all four of Bujold's Sharing Knife books from EOS. Their original call for advanced readers was for book four in the series, Horizon, due out January 27, 2009. But they sweetened the offer by throwing in books one through three. I jumped on it, promising to review not just Horizon, but all four books. As promised, here is the fourth and last of those reviews.

Horizon is the fourth and final book of Bujold's Sharing Knife series. In it, we find our heroes, Dag and Fawn Bluefield, returning north with the intention of settling a place of their own. Dag, already a veteran Lakewalker patroller, has become more than that now: medicine-maker, groundsetter, husband, father/brother figure, and all-around leader to a small conclave of Lakewalkers and farmers. Dag wants for simple things, but his life is anything but simple. As he and Fawn and a myriad of others travel north, they come face-to-face with Dag's worst nightmare: a malice that has grown unchecked and become very powerful as a result.

The Sharing Knife is, by it's very definition, about sacrifice. Dag sacrifices his usual way of life as a Lakewalker. Fawn sacrifices the stability of the life of a farmer to be with him. Others cross paths with Lakewalkers and farmers alike throughout the series and oftentimes come away missing something. A sharing knife itself is a medium of sacrifice, for it is imbued with the 'death' of a Lakewalker individual, and is the only weapon that can slay a malice.

Horizon is very much a continuation (and conclusion) of the series. The story itself comes full circle in more ways than one as Dag and Fawn return north and, in inadvertent fashion, complete the quest most dear to Dag's heart: to seal the rift between farmer and Lakewalker and unite them against the common threat of malice. Perhaps the best thing about Horizon is the way in which this happens. I won't give anything away, but suffice to say Dag spends much of the first three books planting seeds which only spring forth in this final volume.

I've said this before, but it bears mentioning again: the four books read as one. The style, the flow of the various plotlines; one can easily imagine Bujold having written the series in one long, continuous sitting. The writing is consistently excellent, with characters true to form and dialog spot on. This is not an action-packed thriller, yet Bujold has an excellent sense of moving the story along. I never felt like she was spinning me in circles or going down a path that had no relevance to the overall story. It's just great storytelling.

I don't assign ratings to the books I review. If I did, though, I'd give Horizon and the overall Sharing Knife series 5 out of 5 stars. It really is an enjoyable read, with interesting characters, hints of suspense in all the right places, and a world that is believable and engaging. The 'magic system' is fresh and original, and not overdone in any sense. I'd recommend picking up a copy and giving it a read.

Passage by Lois McMaster Bujold

Last month, I received all four of Bujold's Sharing Knife books from EOS. Their original call for advanced readers was for book four in the series, Horizon, due out January 27, 2009. But they sweetened the offer by throwing in books one through three. I jumped on it, promising to review not just Horizon, but all four books. As promised, here is the third of those reviews.

Passage is the third book in Bujold's Sharing Knife series. It is a continuation of the story begun in Beguilement and Legacy. In Legacy, Dag and Fawn come face-to-face with the bigotry of Dag's Lakewalker clan. Near driven out, Dag chooses to leave instead. But he does so with a mission in mind: to heal the rift between Lakewalker and farmer.

On one level this mission of Dag's is a personal one: acceptance of each of the peoples amongst the other would grant his marriage a greater acceptance. On another level it is a matter of long term survival for all. Because there is little communication between Lakewalker and farmer, the scourge of their land, called malices, could potentially run rampant someday because farmers remain ignorant of the early warning signs. It is with the intention of educating farmers of the malice danger that Dag sets out from his home with his wife, Fawn.

They hire themselves out to a flatboat boss, Berry, and Dag begins his journey of farmer healing and enlightenment. They are joined by two other Lakewalkers and a motley lot of farmers/riverboat-types who are drawn to Dag and Fawn's mission in their own individual ways. Much of the story focuses on this personal quest of Dag's and how, in the process, he also develops his 'ground' (magic) to a level not hereto seen in the world.

That bears some explanation: in Lakewalker society an individual is chosen early on for a specific vocation based upon the promise of their ground. Such vocations include patroller, medicine-maker, ground-setter. The principal responsibility of the Lakewalkers is patrolling the lands in search of malice; most Lakewalkers are selected as patrollers. But some others who demonstrate a greater degree of 'groundsense' may become medicine-makers or, even further, ground-setters, able to manipulate almost any material. Dag has already spent most of his life as a patroller by the time we meet him in Beguilement. In Passage, he begins to experiment with his groundsense and, aided by Fawn's knack for seeing things from her own unique perspective, finds that he has the ability to bridge the gap between patroller, medicine-maker, and ground-setter.

Passage is a good book. It's well-written, flows evenly, and possesses a myriad of interesting yet believable characters. But it also stumbles a bit in its singular purpose. Dag's quest is fun to follow, but it becomes too much of the story or, really, the entire story. Not until the end, when Dag must face a renegade Lakewalker and the mayhem he's caused, does the storyline break away into new territory. In short, I felt Passage would have benefited from a bit more going on. There is some mystery in the form of Boatboss Berry, whose family has disappeared somewhere downriver, but it's not enough.

In summary, Bujold doesn't disappoint in once again delivering a folksy tale with plenty of interesting and intriguing characters and magic. In the end, though, Passage could have used an injection of something more. Regardless, I'm looking forward to the conclusion of Dag and Fawn's journey in book four, Horizon.