I was super-excited to learn from Michaeline’s post a couple of weeks ago that Lois McMaster Bujold is to publish a new novella in her Sharing Knife universe. I’m a huge fan of the original tetralogy and somehow I never expected her to revisit this story world, so I feel a squee brewing. Yay! Fingers crossed!
The new novella, called Knife Children, should be published later this month. I see from LMB’s Goodreads blog (link here) that it can be read as a standalone, so if you’re tempted to take a look, don’t assume you have to read the original four books first.
That said, if you’re short of something to read right now, and you enjoy engaging, subtle fantasy stories, you could always try Beguilement, followed by Legacy, Passage, and Horizon. I usually revisit these books once or twice a year, so I’ve been enjoying a leisurely re-read this month while I wait for Knife Children.
I’ve also been pondering, not for the first time, exactly why these books fit so well with my personal id list—the tropes, characters, premises and details that I, as a reader, really, really like (click here to read more about id lists).
I’ll try to describe in a fairly generic, non-spoilery way what I enjoy most about the stories.
The books are set in an imaginary pre-industrial country that looks a lot like America. There are typical fantasy elements—romance, a hero with mage-like powers, scary mythical creatures, blood magic, powerful objects, horses-n-swords, success against overwhelming odds—but here the story is so grounded in normality that the fantastic aspects blend seamlessly with the familiar.
Right from the start of the book the hero and heroine’s romance is as inevitable as it appears improbable. Fawn is a dewy eighteen-year-old farmer’s daughter, two months pregnant after a disappointing tryst in a cornfield, who runs away from home rather than be branded a slut. Dag is a fiftysomething-year-old one-armed battle-scarred widower who has nothing left in life but thankless duty. From their first desperate encounter with one of the aforementioned scary creatures, Dag and Fawn rescue one another, and it rapidly becomes apparent to them (if not to anyone else) that their differences make them perfectly suited, empowering them both. Her common sense, logic, honesty and hungry curiosity challenge his idealism and stimulate his talent for innovation, leading him to develop all kinds of hitherto unsuspected abilities.
They’re from communities that coexist and but do not respect or trust one another, and as the story develops it becomes apparent that their whole world might be at risk for the want of a little honesty and co-operation between the two groups.
Fawn and Dag are a microcosm of what could be, but they meet entrenched resistance, ignorance and bigotry on every step of their journey together. As it becomes increasingly clear that they will never be accepted within the narrow boundaries of either community, they make a new life for themselves, leaving a trail of positive change in their wake.
Of the very many things I love about these books, I’ll single out two things.
The first is that the heroine’s superpower is common sense. She’s not even book-learned, though she can read and write and keep accounts. She’s smart, logical and saves the day more than once by sheer force of deduction, though her efforts are usually dismissed by everyone except Dag.
The second is that without ever resorting to theme-mongering, the Sharing Knife tetralogy champions not waiting for people in leadership positions to make necessary change. The books are about making an effort, doing whatever you can to make a difference at grass roots level, and never giving up. I love that.
The Sharing Knife books offer an enjoyable read, a satisfying ending, and rich, chewy food for thought. What’s not to like?
If you’ve read these books did you enjoy them? Which elements of the story hit your personal id list?
If you haven’t read them, are you tempted? If not, why not?