Fantasy Round 31: The Sharing Knife
We’ve mentioned before that we’re pretty serious fans of Lois McMaster Bujold.
However, neither of us had previously delved into her fantasy novels. (Too distracted by Vorkosigan.)
Regardless, we’ve found them now. And they’re pretty good. Let’s have a look at one series in particular, The Sharing Knife, which is composed of four separate novels. (I’m a little disappointed that no new books are planned in that universe.)
Of course, there will be some spoilers.
The series is described as a crossover romance with the fantasy, and hoo boy, is it ever. The story centers around Fawn, a young Farmer woman, and Dag, an older Lakewalker patroller, who meet and end up bridging the divide between their two peoples.
Regardless, there are a lot of similarities between this primary romance and the others that appear in Bujold’s various works. The romance is fast and furious, with a much older man marrying a much younger woman. Those parts are both a bit worrisome, but at least there’s plenty of comment from other people about how Dag is older than Fawn’s father, and how short a time they’ve known each other. The relation that’s shown seems healthy enough, with both partners contributing roughly evenly — so at least that part isn’t scary. Fawn is no fighter, but she does use her brains to their utmost, and there are no random fainting spells.
The fact that these two are on two different sides of a cultural divide just adds to the similarities with the romance between Aral Vorkosigan and Cordelia Naismith.
The setting is pleasantly self-consistent. The story is set in what is hinted to be a vastly post-apocalyptic future, over a millennium after the apocalypse after humans did something to massively change themselves and their environment. The whole thing is plunked down into the US midwest, more or less. The maps show what could be the Mississippi River and New Orleans, along with other regions that are geographically suspicious.
The basic form of magic that shows up centers around what the Lakewalkers (who can use it) refer to as ground, effectively a kind of life-force that exists in all things — more and stronger in living things. Lakewalkers are capable of perceiving and manipulation ground, their own and others, for various purposes. This includes a nice mechanic for seeing in the dark (that tree over there? You can see its ground), veiling one’s ground (hiding from groundsenses), manipulating mundane items to make them work more effectively, and healing.
Only Lakewalkers (and a rare few Farmers) have any degree of groundsense. This would be a more idyllic situation, except for the apocalypse part: something went horribly wrong with the sorcerer-lord types with super-awesome ground powers. This blew up the Great Lakes (and also probably Chicago, whose now-underwater ruins are remarked upon). It also produced malices: creatures that, every so often, spring up from the (literal) ground, and proceed to mind-control and manipulate any animals or humans their can get their (metaphorical) hands on… and consume the (magical) ground from all of them. Much of the western US is covered by what is referred to as the Western Levels, where the ground has been so sucked from everything that everything is dead, flat, and empty.
This all makes me wonder: Is ground a representation for post-apocalyptic nanobots? The malices sound a lot like grey goo, nanobots run amok that consume everything in sight in order to turn it into themselves. I’m not quite sure how this would jive with the fact that ground senses can be used for range manipulation, or that people can clearly exchange ground with objects and each other, but it could be workable.
The one major issue with this is how Dag seems to end up with new powers as plot demands. This would be mostly okay, except that it involves getting training in things that Lakewalkers apparently usually keep secret — secret even from other Lakewalkers who don’t have the ability to pull them off.
That just seems… silly. Especially for it to have been maintained as a secret for a millennium. At least the idea of having these capabilities is somewhat foreshadowed.
Magical Birth Control
One of the nifty things about groundsenses is that — apparently — they can be used to tell when a woman is fertile (ovulating?). Hello, rhythm method birth control.
Now, the rhythm method (and related appraoches) frequently fails as a birth control method, because it’s common for a woman to have a menstrual cycle that doesn’t match up with the assumptions of the method. Magic solves that problem.
However, I do wonder how it works. There’s actually a large range of days when a woman is fertile during her cycle — a large range extrending from well before to well after when ovulation actually occurs. The novels made it sound like the length of time was only a few days, rather than about 10 days of a 30-day menstrual cycle.
People in this setting — especially the ones without groundsenses — would probably be better off if they had access to better contraceptive methods.