Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Book Review: The Sharing Knife Part 3: Passage

Passage (The Sharing Knife, #3)Passage by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At the end of Book 2: Legacy, Dag decides to leave his Lakewalker camp and travel among farmers so that he can find a better way for Lakewalkers and farmers to live together, neither apart nor as lords and serfs. (Somewhat to my annoyance, he does not discuss this ahead of time with Fawn; he just makes the announcement. This marks Fawn's transformation into traditional tag-along wife and helpmeet.) Fawn arranges them passage on a riverboat in exchange for work, and they float down the Grace and Grey. Joined at the start of their voyage by Fawn's brother, Whit, and an injured boy, Hod, they soon pick up a couple of young Lakewalker patrollers, and a sort of unofficial river patrol begins to form, with Dag as leader. The boat Boss, Berry, is on a mission to find out what happened to her father, brother and fiance, missing since the previous season. They find out the ugly truth, not a Malice, but malice in human form, and the unofficial patrol camp joins up with several boaters to deal with the matter.

While Book 1: Beguilement is devoted to Fawn and Dag's blossoming romance, and Book 2 shows us how Lakewalkers live and fills us in on their history, Book 3 is very much Dag's book. Dag is struggling to develop his new-found medicine maker powers with no mentor to help him. He performs odd experiments, sometimes putting himself in danger, but overall he has more success than failure, and his powers grow. Fawn falls into the background, making dinner, offering support, going shopping and coveting wood stoves, dreaming of settling down and making babies. As Dag discovers power, she nurses domesticity. Some readers may find this unsatisfactory. For myself, I'm not sure. Certainly the traditional depiction of women in SF and F as either sexpots for men to rescue or career women embittered due to lack of a man, was inadequate. But the common modern-day solution of demanding that all women in fantasy be "kick-ass" and apparently infertile and without menstrual cycles is also inadequate. Bujold's depiction of this particular 19-year-old woman in this particular universe may be the compromise most appropriate to the story.

An aspect of this book that I appreciated is Bujold's handling of trauma. This too stands in sharp contrast to most SF and F fiction, in which the hero goes through all sorts of horrible experiences and emerges totally unaffected and free of PTSD. Bujold's handling of Fawn's flashback and emotional reaction as she revisits the malice cave (from Book 1) is sensitive and true.

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