After seeing the ocean, Dag and Fawn head for their next destination, a Lakewalker camp rumored to house a Healer who might be able to answer some of Dag’s concerns and questions. Arkady Waterbirch, the Healer, turns out to have quite a lot of answers, and much of Dag’s worry is relieved. […]
After seeing the ocean, Dag and Fawn head for their next destination, a Lakewalker camp rumored to house a Healer who might be able to answer some of Dag’s concerns and questions. Arkady Waterbirch, the Healer, turns out to have quite a lot of answers, and much of Dag’s worry is relieved. After some trouble with the southern Lakewalker camp, which, though not quite as cut off as the northern camps, is still not very accepting of change and new ideas, the group (Fawn, Dag, Barr and Arkady) join a farmer wagon train heading north. Along the way Dag continues his ‘apprenticeship’ with Arkady and finally makes some real headway on solving the problem of farmer/Lakewalker relations: he invents a shield that can prevent farmers from being mind-controlled by malices. This is tested during an unexpected malice attack where the farmers save the day.
After the nice interlude on the river, we’re thrown back into the thick of things back on land. Dag’s anxiety over what happened with Crane has grown to a fever pitch, and he feels as if he may be losing control of himself. It’s just so easy to abuse power, especially when it seems to be for the right reasons. Fawn is worried too, and has been canvassing the local poplulation for the name of the best Lakewalker healer around, someone with enough talent they might be able to help guide Dag.
The group is consistently given the name Arkady Waterbirch, and they travel to the camp where he lives. This provides our first introduction to the Southern Lakewalker clans. The South, as we’re told, has been pretty much cleared of malices, and both the farmers and the Lakewalkers have ceased to view them as an immediate threat. The Lakewalkers especially are finding it difficult to maintain the Spartan lifestyle adopted by the northerners: they have started building houses and permanent buildings and mixing far more freely with the farmers in the area. This slow erosion of their supposedly superior culture is a source of great anxiety to the Lakewalkers themselves, and it seems like most of their reactions are informed by their guilt at succombing to farmer ways (and that, deep down, they probably don’t really want to go back.)
Our band of travellers lodge with Arkady while Dag begins learning to control his new abilities. I was pleased that we didn’t have to deal with Dag’s angsting for very long: he calmed down directly he saw Arkady had the same ability to project ground as he did. We then get a glimpse of what might have been back at Hickory Lake camp, had Hoharie agreed to Dag’s suggestion that Fawn be allowed to be his Healing assistant. Though Dag naively assumes the other Lakewalkers are getting used to Fawn and becoming more accepting of her, it’s pretty clear to the reader (and later made starkly clear to Dag) that the Lakewalkers are only humoring the whim of a skilled Healer they hope to retain. They tolerate her, it’s true, but it’s not enough on her own merit that they would ever consider associating with her without him. And so, in case the reader didn’t agree with his decision to light out on his own, we are shown that it never could have worked out any other way.
The group is soon on the move again, heading north with Arkady in tow, after a disagreement with the camp leaders generates an ultimatum and a bluff which Dag calls. And while the necessity of heading north again is clear (without malices, the need for immediate farmer/Lakewalker cooperation is less pressing and seems to be evolving naturally at its own pace), this second half of the book was much weaker than the first. Dag, Arkady, Barr and Fawn join a farmer wagon train heading north, and we’re suddenly introduced to a whole pile of new characters who are not really very distinctive and who, for me, blend together in a confusing mass. The proliferation of characters only increases when we rejoin the other half of the previous travelling group, Fawn’s brother Whit, his new wife Berry and their assorted entourage. Then still more people arrive: a small band sent out from the southern camp to try and entice Dag’s party back, an ignorant farmer family stuck on the road, and Dag’s niece Sumac and another patroller she was with.
The small army travelling along makes it hard to maintain focus. There is a reason to limit a quest group to under ten people: it’s too hard to remember and keep track of where everyone is. I have read books in the past where characters will disappear for chapters at a time (often missing conversations and actions they should certainly have been involved with) only to suddenly pop up again when the author remembers they were there. Bujold does an admirable job of not forgetting characters, but the effort of keeping track of so many different people and made this whole section less effective than the rest. It felt shallow. There was too much going on, and in a series which has made a point of being introspective and “small” in its focus, I felt like suddenly we were doing something else altogether.
The crazy amount of new characters aside, it’s in this part of the book that Dag finally makes progress at solving the problem he has pinpointed as the largest obstacle to farmer/Lakewalker cooperation: the farmers’ vulnerability to Beguilement by both Lakewalkers and Malices. He had made a small attempt at a shield earlier, but it’s only after his work with Arkady that he is competant to actually create one and make it stick. This is a good and reasonable solution to what was a seemingly intractable problem set up in the prior books, and I was pleased at the resolution.
And now a few random observations:
1. The real villain of this book was the Lakewalker Neeta rather than the malices, and I was once again very very glad not to have the plot become embroiled by some sort of stupid jealousy/misunderstanding business where someone sees something that was really innocent and overreacts. I cannot really recall any instances of this in any of the books in this series, and for that I am grateful.
2. That said, we came precipitously near to a cringe-worthy turn of events toward the end of the book where Dag is restrained by the farmers because they think he’s lost it. It was similar in feel to the scene in Legacy which I also disliked, and that is why I preferred Beguilement and Passage which had none such.
3. And finally, I end with a question: Throughout the series we’ve seen that farmers are generally named after real things: plants, animals and the like. Lakewalker given names are more fanciful and seem to have no particular origin in the real world. So what in the hell is going on with Sumac?
This was a good conclusion for the series, leaving open the possibility of further adventures but tying up all of the main plotlines in a satisfying way. After the very strong third book, I found some parts of this book a bit of a let down, but it was never bad and there was much to like.