Book 3: Passage, dealt with Dag and Fawn's journey down the rivers Grace and Grey and the experiences, good, bad, and ugly, that they have along the way. When Horizon opens, they have come to the end of their river journey, in the seaside town of Greymouth. Here Dag meets Lakewalkers of a nearby camp who are able to direct him to a medicine maker of great repute, and he is at last able to begin an apprenticeship. But the usual problem, Lakewalker non-acceptance of his farmer wife Fawn, asserts itself, and it's not long before Fawn and Dag are on the road again.
I found this to be the weakest of all the Sharing Knife books. The problem of too many characters, some of whom never get developed, cropped up to some extent in the previous book, but here it's a good deal worse. By mid-book, there are so many people tagging along with the party that it's hard for the reader to remember many of them, especially since a good five or six are little more than names, and four or so others get such short shrift that their motivations are unclear, their behaviour inconsistent, their characters murky—Calla especially. I think the book would have been better if she had been edited out altogether. I also would have edited out that poor family in the wagon; I don't think they added anything of value. Granted that there have to be some farmers around for the climactic malice encounter, they don't need to be that darned numerous. The excess of characters also bogs down the story, especially around three-quarters through, and the proceedings get downright dull for a while.
Which is a shame, because pulled down by all that bloat is a fine story, with many dramatic and even horrific elements, and once again, Fawn's talent for thinking outside the box proves essential. I mentioned Fawn's increasing domestic yearnings in my review of book 3. That does not change in book 4. Fawn still wants to settle down and have an iron cook-stove and babies. Yet she can still come through in the crunch, and so really, though fans of kick-ass women in fantasy fiction are unlikely to be pleased, I think it's for the best that she is presented this way; she makes for an unusual, and even unusually well-rounded, female heroine. And though Dag and Fawn may seem to have somewhat disparate needs, they manage to get them all met in the end while remaining together.
Speaking of Fawn having babies, there is a consistent theme of birth and pregnancy throughout the series, which culminates in an unexpected and bizarre fashion in Horizon. I haven't yet managed to work up a good analysis of this theme, but I feel it could and should be done, and that Freudian psychologists could very well have a field day with some of the imagery. Perhaps later I'll manage to come up with something.
I wonder if the book's problems may be due in part to its being fourth in a quadrilogy. It is an unusual form, and there may be a good reason for that; perhaps it is an unwieldy one as well. And of course, the longer and more complex a story is, the harder it is to wrap up. But wrapped up it is, neatly enough at the last. Whatever flaws Horizon has, it is still worth reading to see how well everything is resolved at the end.