Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Sharing Knife: Horizon by Lois McMaster Bujold

Bujold, Lois McMaster - Horizon

As I’m sure I’ve said before, I’m a Lois McMaster Bujold fan-girl. I’ve read almost everything she’s written (I think the only things I haven’t read are The Spirit Ring and the book of essays, Dreamweaver’s Dilemma). I’ve read the first three books in her Sharing Knife series and it was always a foregone conclusion that I would be buying the last one when it came out, and in hardcover at that (ever since I kind of accidently bought Memory in hardcover, Bujold has been a hardcover author for me).

The previous instalment, Passage, ended when Fawn, Dag and company ended their journey down the Grace River to the sea. Horizon starts shortly afterwards, with the marriage of Fawn’s brother Whit, to boat captain, Berry. As Whit, Berry and their family make plans to return to the north, Fawn learns of a groundsetter in a nearby Lakewalker camp and persuades Dag to ask if the man will teach him to use his growing but untutored Maker skills. Reluctantly, he agrees and they set out to see if their welcome will be any better from Southern Lakewalkers.

By the end of Passage, Dag had come to realise that while his plan to educate and treat Farmers is definitely possible, he has no real idea what he’s doing and is making it all up as he goes along. All the same, he’s not quite sure what to do about it. Fawn, being Fawn, has her own ideas and sets about putting things in motion. She learns that a local Lakewalker camp has a renowned groundsetter and medicine maker and convinces Dag to approach the man to learn more. Not unexpectedly, Dag’s strange set of companions – his Farmer wife, Barr and Remo – are not immediately welcomed, but Dag’s refusal to go anywhere without Fawn is ultimately successful and they are invited into the camp.

This section of the book is infinitely more successful that the Lakewalker camp sequence in Legacy. I’m not exactly sure why, unless it is that here, Dag is making progress towards a desired goal, rather than trying desperately to fit into a place that is no longer the right place for him. All the same, it remains a puzzle to me why I was fascinated in this novel where in the previous one I was bored. Fawn is still initially ostracised by the Lakewalkers, and again slowly begins to win a selected group of them over. But this time there is an overall positive feeling, while at Hickory Lake, there wasn’t. It seems that there is a growing possibility that Dag and Fawn will be offered a place in the camp when Dag ruins it all by going to treat a Farmer child with lockjaw.

In consequence, Fawn and Dag find themselves riding north again, accompanied once again by a motley entourage of both Lakewalkers and Farmers, that continues to swell as they travel. This is a credit both to Dag’s innate charisma (something he has no idea he has) and Fawn’s calm, level-headed good sense. They are a beautifully balanced couple, each balancing and enhancing the other, and by the end of the book they have found a place they can build a new future together, carved out of their different but meshed backgrounds and lives.

I sometimes find myself wondering if they are a little too perfect. They don’t seem to quarrel – or even sulk a little – and they work together so beautifully in ways that always seem to work out, even when they shouldn’t. I have never felt either was too perfect an individual – each has his or her faults and they make them all the better as characters. It’s just that as a couple they don’t seem to have any faults. Of course, we’ve only seen a small part of their lives together, but surely if anything was going to bring out the worst in them, it would be some of the things they’ve encountered in the time since they met. I’m not even sure how much this bugs me or if it does at all, but it is certainly something I’ve thought about.

All the same, Bujold has tied up the series very nicely. It certainly deserves it over-reaching title, as this is really one story, cut into more easily readable pieces. It is the story of the birth and growth of a marriage, one that by the end is firmly and beautifully established. It is also a tale of the mixing of two cultures, something that is never easily achieved, but if the participants do not shatter, builds something new and stronger than the sum of its parts. It has also been an interesting glimpse into a fascinating world that I will be happy to visit again.

But you do need to begin reading at the beginning (with The Sharing Knife: Beguilement) to truly appreciate the story. Trust me, as is virtually always the case with Bujold, it’s worth it.

I know this isn’t one of my better reviews – I’m rambled on about plot much more than I ever intended to, and I don’t know why I’ve struggled with it so. It’s certainly a case of me rather than the book, as my health is rather under the weather at the moment. So don’t rely on my meanderings, go out and find the first book and decide for yourself. I don’t believe you’ll be disappointed.

The Sharing Knife: Horizon
Lois McMaster Bujold
The Sharing Knife, Book 4

Qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge

The Sharing Knife:

  1. Beguilement
  2. Legacy
  3. Passage
  4. Horizon

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