So I’ve finally finished one of the books on my TBR challenge list. Hurray! The Lost Steersman is the third book in the Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein, and I’ve read the first two books previously. It’s a series that does some interesting things with genre conventions, and with the underlying structures of the world. (There are some non-specific spoilers below, so tread carefully if that’s something that will bother you.)
In The Lost Steersman, we pick up the story with Rowan separated from Bel, living in the small town of Alemeth and trying so hard to be resigned to her situation. At the same time, she is still trying to find the wizard Slado, looking for him in the shadows, in what is not there. Meanwhile, one of the young people of Alemeth is trying to adjust to the new Steerswoman, who is about to change the course of his life.
It’s always nice to see the deepening of worldbuilding as a series goes on (this is one of the things I love about CJ Cherryh’s Foreigner series) and here Kirstein really delves into the implications of the Steerswoman’s code of conduct. If Rowan believes in it, then she must act in certain ways; if she acts in certain ways, there will be consequences. It causes a kind of thinking that’s what we might call critical thinking but which feels much more fundamental than that within the context of the world. It’s related to what Terry Pratchett calls Second and Third Thoughts in the Tiffany Aching books.
And we also see how it can be used against the Steerswomen, how their commitment to the exchange of knowledge doesn’t mean that they are omnipotent. We see how the flaws in the system can hurt people as well as help them, and yet we also understand Rowan’s ultimate re-commitment to that system and its best practices.
I also was fascinated at the way Kirstein takes our expectations of narrative–that the solution of the problems in this book will advance the main storyline–and upends them. The threat here is not what Rowan thinks it is, and the moment when she finally admits that to herself is really effective.
This is a book about ideas almost more than characters, but I do find Rowan deeply sympathetic in a lot of ways. And there are lots of nicely-written moments in the story. Kirstein has a great understanding of how to move a story forward when long journeys are involved, which other fantasy writers might take notes from. The result is a story that feels tightly wound, propelling us towards a horizon we can’t quite see.
Book source: public library
Book information: 2003, Del Rey; adult specfic
Previously on By Singing Light: