No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Sunday, October 16, 2011

2011/59-60: The Sharing Knife: Beguilement / Legacy -- Lois McMaster Bujold

"Groundsense. It's a sense of everything around us. What's alive, where it is, how it's doing ..."
"Magic?"
"Not the way farmers use the term. It's not like getting something for nothing. It's just the way the world is, deep down." (Beguilement, p. 68)

Again, books I've owned for a while but only just got round to reading. I'm a fan of Bujold's Vorkosigan saga, and I like the first two of her Chalion novels (not so keen on the third), but these two volumes -- really two halves of a single long novel -- weren't as enjoyable a read, for me, as I'd expected.

Some elements are familiar from Bujold's other works. The maimed hero (like Miles); the  vulnerability and strength of a pregnant woman (like Cordelia); the quiet feuds of domestic life (nothing quite as hilariously awful as the dinner-party scene in A Civil Campaign); the tension between the peaceful majority who must be protected and the warrior-class who protect them (ImpSec, Simon Illyan); a protagonist set apart by their ability to see through superficial appearance to the underlying essence of a person (Ista, Miles ...) Other elements seem new: The Sharing Knife has a distinctly rural ambience, drawing on the trope of pioneers settling an empty land; there's a romance between two characters at greatly different stages of their lives; there's an enemy that seems wholly evil.

The Sharing Knife: Beguilement and Legacy fall further towards the 'romantic' end of the 'SF&F Romance' spectrum than Bujold's other works. There's a strong fantastical element, but the plot is more focussed on the relationship between Dag (a Lakewalker, or magic-user, half in love with easeful death, who's spent many years combatting malices -- beings of pure magic, or 'ground', who enslave and corrupt mortal life) and Fawn (teenaged farmgirl runaway, feisty as all get-out, who finds that life on the road holds more hazards than brigands and sore feet).

The emotional weight isn't in the magical conflict or the mystery of the malices, but in the interactions of Fawn and Dag with one another and with their respective families. There's a striking contrast between Dag's 'family', the Lakewalkers, who respect but don't truly love him, and Fawn's farmer-folk, who love her but don't respect her.

And in the end, the finale of Legacy doesn't feel like any kind of ending: Dag and Fawn step back from their situations and choose a third path. I expect that there's much of interest in later books about malices, about the ancient history of this world, about the gods and their absence: but I'm not intrigued enough, nor fond enough of the protagonists, to rush to read more.

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