The Steerswoman’s Road: A travelogue

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Rosemary Kirstein The Steerswoman's RoadThe Steerswoman’s Road by Rosemary Kirstein

Some books are like a wild, whitewater rafting adventure that ends with a huge cascading waterfall. The Steerswoman’s Road is more like drifting down a slowly meandering river on an inner tube. This is an omnibus edition of the first two novels in the series, The Steerswoman and The Outskirter’s Secret.

Rowan is a Steerswoman. The Steerswomen and men must answer any question asked of them truthfully. Any question they ask in return must also be answered. Failure to answer a question will place a person under ban and they may never ask a question of a Steerswoman again.

The Steerswomen are the knowledge gatherers of their world. In The Steerswoman, Rowan is attempting to track the origin of some strange blue jewels that have been found in scattered locations when she meets Bel, an Outskirter (think nomad), for the first time. The two of them become traveling companions. Bel wants to see more of her world, and Rowan is intrigued enough by her to take her on as a companion. What Rowan doesn’t know, is that the world’s wizards are determined to stop her before she can find the source of the jewels. We follow the two on their journey, which unfortunately becomes bogged down in world-building.

In The Outskirter’s Secret, Rowan and Bel head to the Outskirts still in pursuit of the origins of the blue jewels. By this time, they know what they think they are looking for, but again, the book is mostly world building. We meet the nomadic Outskirter tribes and learn their customs and get a biology lesson in the flora and fauna of the outskirts.

The premise was intriguing, promising adventure and intrigue. What I got was an exercise in world-building with ploddingly slow plot development. Along the way, Rosemary Kirstein introduces many interesting, well-drawn secondary characters, but they disappear too quickly and the plot just keeps meandering along. I found myself wishing for more of the other characters’ stories instead of the one I was reading.

Rowan is an observer by nature and profession, and as such, doesn’t make for a very good protagonist for this book. She is content to wait and let things happen. If I’d been looking for a travelogue of her time in the Outskirts, it would have worked well. As a fantasy novel, it’s just not what I was hoping for.

Overall, The Steerswoman’s Road features interesting characters and decent world-building, but I wish there had been a fascinating plot to go along with it.


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SARAH WEBB, a guest contributor, is Ruth's sister. They grew up together in a house where books were as important as food and shelter. Sarah reads almost any fantasy and dabbles mostly in the space opera end of the science fiction universe with an occasional break to catch up on the mystery scene. Someday, she will have a house with enough bookshelves to house her collection correctly.

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