THE STEERSWOMAN by Rosemary Kirstein

steers3The classification is sci fi/fantasy, but really, for me, there is nothing sci fi about this.  It is a fantasy work, written in 1989, and is the first of a 5 book series.

It is set in I think the far future, and I get the impression that the world once had great technology, but some disaster left only a remnant of civilization which is just now starting to rebuild it self pretty much from scratch.  It seems there are no books, and knowledge and information are acquired and passed on by a group composed mostly of women called Steerswomen, although there are a few Steersmen.

It is a medieval-like world, with transportation seeming to be only horses and boats. There are only a few carts or carriages in use, but mostly everyone just walks.  The Steerswomen are accorded great civility by everyone, because they are like traveling librarians, and the rules are:  you can ask a Steerswoman anything and she must answer, and if she asks you anything, you must answer, and if you don’t, you are banned from ever asking anything again.

But you will be pleased to know that there are wizards in this world, and people carry swords, so I guess that would make this a sword and sorcerer kind of thing.

So anyway, these chicks wander around the known world, which is not particularly vast, mapping and gathering knowledge.  The protagonist of this book is Rowan, who meets up with a warrior woman from the Outskirts, Bel, which is this world’s word for barbarian.  The Outskirters are a strong, warlike bunch without much knowledge of the type that Rowan and her world has.   The woman helps save Rowan from a bandit attack on the road, and they travel together from then on, in quest of the knowledge of strange blue stones with silver threads in them, that are found in what would appear to be random places.  Rowan is quite curious as to what they are.

They travel in part guided by the two guidestars, fixed bodies in the heavens.  They don’t move, and seem to be in orbit with the planet and as in every decent quest tale, meet up with someone who can help, in the form of a teenage farm boy who has been teaching himself to be a wizard.  He has found a substance which is explosive, which will certainly come in handy.  They set off with William in tow, promising to introduce him to a suitable wizard to whom he can apprentice himself.

When the wizards learn of Rowan’s interest in the mysterious blue stones, they feel she is dangerous.  Wizards are secretive and never share their knowledge, but they do help the cities with various tasks.  Once again, my pet peeve about fantasy stories with wizards is that they can produce spells of invisibility and protection and attack, but don’t seem to be able to do anything about indoor plumbing, central heating or creating a decent vehicle.   Everyone is still running around in robe-like garments, sitting by useless fires, being cold, and using the outhouse in the back yard.  Pffffft.

Since I know you are not going to read this, I will give you a little more.  After much mathematical thinking, having to do with trajectories, infinite falling bodies, etc., Rowan comes to the conclusion that the guidestars are not stars at all, but artificial bodies put there probably centuries ago by the wizards of the time, how we don’t know, and for what purpose we don’t know, and that the blue gemstones that started to be found about 35 years ago are the remnants of a destroyed guidestar.  Who destroyed the star?  We don’t know, but Rowan suspects it was wizards.

It is an interesting concept, but does have some what I consider gratuitous violence that didn’t feel like it fit with the rest of the nature of the book, but dang, everybody loves gore, so why not.

And I want to know why every fantasy book seems to be set in medieval England?  With these wizards and sorcerers who don’t seem to conjure up anything useful?

But nevertheless, I enjoyed it, and I snagged a couple more in the series to be read sometime when I am a hundred and twenty six or so.



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