In this next book, the Steerswoman Rowan and her Outskirter friend Bel journey into Bel’s homeland, the distant and dangerous Outskirts, which is this world’s word for barbarian. They are looking for the source of the mysterious blue gemstones with the silver lines in them. Rowan is quite sure that the source is a fallen guidestar, which is some sort of apparatus placed in orbit in the sky maybe thousands of years ago by wizards. The wizards in Rowan’s neck of the woods having learned of her interest in this phenomenon, are out to get her, and she and we readers have no idea why.
As you may recall, a Steerswoman is a kind of traveling encyclopedia, gathering and dispensing information and knowledge. The rules of their order are that anyone can ask them anything and they must answer truthfully. In turn, they will ask questions, and the person must answer, or forever be banned from asking anything else of the Steerswomen.
This second volume is very much a typical quest tale, as the two women enter a land of strange biospheres, unusual plants, odd animals, overcome goblins, demons and some pretty horrific weather. They must deal with the suspicious and paranoid Outskirter tribes who inhabit this strange land. Their paranoia is justified, and their tightly held customs are meant for the survival of the tribe.
The two women come upon a tribe and ask to travel with them for safety, where they meet up with another traditional quest element — the willing helper. He is from the Inner Land, but has chosen to live as an Outskirter and was finally admitted to the tribe.
Do the women finally reach the source of the gemstones? Yes, after much hazardous and arduous traveling. Do they solve the mystery of the guidestars and the wizards? Nope. Not in this volume. Dang. But we get the feeling that the magic that the wizards use to control the guidestars is some vestige of high technology.
If you decide to read the series, I recommend a quick pass through Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey, where he explains the quest and its meaning. And to make it really easy for you, here is a concise rundown on it from Mythologyteacher.com. Because this series is shaping up to be a textbook case.
So we have more battles, bravery, gore, treachery, betrayal, and help from unexpected sources. I’m really getting into it. Just started the next volume.