The Sharing Knife: Horizon by Lois McMaster Bujold: B-

From the front flap:
In a world where malices—remnants of ancient magic—can erupt with life-destroying power, only soldier-sorcerer Lakewalkers have mastered the ability to kill them. But Lakewalkers keep their uncanny secrets and themselves from the farmers they protect, so when patroller Dag Redwing Hickory rescued farmer girl Fawn Bluefield, neither expected to fall in love, join their lives in marriage, or defy both their kin to seek new solutions to the perilous split between their peoples.

Fawn and Dag see that their world is changing, and the traditional Lakewalker practices cannot hold every malice at bay forever. Yet for all the customs that the couple has challenged thus far, they will soon be confronted by a crisis exceeding their worst imaginings, one that threatens their Lakewalker and farmer followers alike. Now the pair must answer in earnest the question they’ve grappled with since they killed their first malice together: when the old traditions fail disastrously, can their untried new ways stand against their world’s deadliest foe?
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J’s Take on Sharing Knife: Horizon by Lois McMaster Bujold

Horizon is the fourth and final book in the Sharing Knife series by Lois McMaster Bujold.
Having reached the bottom of the river, Dag and Fawn go off to see if he can get some training from a Lakewalker healer. Wherein we learn a new term ‘groundsetter’, which I never did quite figure out. It seems […]

Horizon is the fourth and final book in the Sharing Knife series by Lois McMaster Bujold.

Having reached the bottom of the river, Dag and Fawn go off to see if he can get some training from a Lakewalker healer. Wherein we learn a new term ‘groundsetter’, which I never did quite figure out. It seems to be a specialty, somewhat like a surgeon. This guy, Arkady, takes on the unconventional Dag as his apprentice. But when Dag goes off to heal a farmer kid with lockjaw, this Lakewalker camp isn’t too keen on the idea. So Dag leaves, but he acquires Arkady and a patroller chick. And they all head up The Trace, which is basically a land path up the river back north. Naturally, along the way, they acquire more people, Lakewalker and farmer both.

So other than Dag being a little more educated, this is basically the plot of the last book. Heading on up the river instead of down, acquiring people as they go. I was enjoying the trip, but after awhile, I started wondering when the big, bad conflict would come along. So every time they encountered a new person or group or weird thing, I wondered if this was going to be it. Only, mostly it turned out not to be it.

When the big bad does show up, it’s pretty interesting. And everyone gets something to do. And people get hurt. And people do clever things.

Around about this time, I was having real trouble telling people apart. There were so many of them and they all had similar, one or two-syllable names, mostly nature-based. There’s Ash and Owlet and Sage and Berry and on and on. And just from the name, you couldn’t guess at gender. And just from the name, you couldn’t guess if they were Lakewalker or farmer. So I’d be staring at a name, trying to remember… Lakewalker or farmer? Male or female? Whose husband was that again?

The last chapter was an epilogue. An entire chapter of infodump to tell us what people had been up to and where they’ll go now that the story is over. Granted it’s not ‘As you know, Bob..’ because the Bob in this situation doesn’t know. They’re filling each other in on what they’ve missed while being apart. So while it’s effective enough, it’s a little inelegant.

One theme in this book is halfbloods. Some of the people they pick up along the way are half-Lakewalker, half-farmer, and of course Dag and Fawn are concerned how any of their children are going to get along in the world. And the final chapter really draws this out.

Which is kind of a shame, because I’m actually far more interested in the halfbloods.

All in all, a decent end to a decent story. Though nothing about the series really wowed me. If Bujold writes more in this world, I’ll definitely read it. But I won’t be going back to reread these anytime soon. Unlike the Vorkosigan books, which I really do need to go back and reread soon.


The Sharing Knife: Horizon (Lois McMaster Bujold)

The Plot
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. […]

The Plot
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.

My Thoughts
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?

In Short
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.