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The Sharing Knife: Beguilement
      The Sharing Knife: Legacy
Lois McMaster Bujold
      Lois McMaster Bujold
HarperCollins Eos, 368 pages
      HarperCollins Eos, 377 pages

The Sharing Knife: Beguilement
The Sharing Knife: Legacy
Lois McMaster Bujold
Lois McMaster Bujold was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1949. She attended Ohio State and later worked as a pharmacy technician at the Ohio State University Hospitals. She has two children and now lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her first novel, Shards of Honor, was completed in 1983 and published in 1986. Her first professional sale was a story in 1984 to Twilight Zone Magazine. Falling Free was her first Nebula Award. Since then she has won another Nebula, and 4 Hugo Awards.

Lois McMaster Bujold Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Miles Vorkosigan Saga
SF Site Review: Paladin of Souls
SF Site Review: The Curse of Chalion
SF Site Review: The Spirit Ring

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Sherwood Smith

I waited a year because someone had warned me that The Sharing Knife: Beguilement was actually the first half of a book summarily chopped in half. I didn't want to read the first half of a book and then wait a year, so I waited until the second came out. The story appears to be a fantasy set on some pastoral world near water, where we are introduced to two cultures living in uneasy coexistence: the Farmers and the Lakewalkers, who patrol everywhere looking for malices (bogles to the Farm people) that suck all the life and energy out of people, animals, land. The resultant blight can last a century or more, and affected are not just the living, but the environment such as rocks and soil. The Lakewalkers aren't particularly trusted by the Farm folk, who own and farm land, but are protected by them: the Farm folk are unable to fight the bogles.

The story begins when a Farm girl -- Fawn, just barely eighteen -- runs away from home, gets grabbed by a malice, is rescued by a Lakewalker, and ends up spending enough time with the man (for reasons having to do with the eponymous Sharing Knives) that she begins to fall for him. Even though she's eighteen and he's fifty-five.

Lois McMaster Bujold has given us middle-aged, battle-weary heroes before, in Aral of the Miles books, and Caz of the Chalion books, and she makes them fascinating and distinct. Dag is tired, and missing a hand, though anyone who assumes he can't hold his own in battle is in for a nasty surprise. He's grief-driven, so tight-wired that he has got no emotional edge on an eighteen year old -- one could say that he's emotionally retarded by his long, shock-filled life.

Everyone in both cultures disapproves of these two as a pair; she, a blithe spirit, becomes stubborn, and he, sheepish, begins to wake up to the possibilities of life again, instead of the close focus on methods of delivering efficient death. Together they are an anomaly, and not just because of the age and cultural divide, but because something happened when they killed that malice together to make it clear that there's a lot of mystery still buried in their history.

This is a new world, at least initially quieter in tone and drive than the Miles books. Many fans have grumped about anything Bujold does that is not-Miles. But the over-arching Miles story itself has become not-Miles, at least, the powerful emotional overdrive and desperate-death threatening political situation (all fuel-injected by Mile's high octane personal problems) are not the same rocket, or rather, that rocket has achieved high orbit. Very much present in these two books are the signature Bujoldian gracenotes: everyday humor thoroughly grounding flights of heroism, angst that never whines, grief that does not overwhelm the story with scenes meant to drench the reader in pity. What Bujold does in the first book as she carefully develops every character (never settling for stereotypes or single-motive actions) is to remind the reader that outside the firelight and the merry dancing, dark things do prowl.

The Sharing Knife: Legacy is the second half of the story. (Second book, yes, but I do think that, while readers could probably pick up on the story, it would be far, far better to read Beguilement first, which is why this paired review.) It begins with a leisurely honeymoon scene before Fawn and Dag, who had spent most of the last book with her family, go to meet his -- while the problems with malices continue to get more sinister as well as mysterious.

Fawn, the young heroine, is no simpering flower: she's smart, capable, full of energy and knows her own mind. She's emotionally balanced -- probably more than Dag is. She is possessed of a generous spirit, and an equally vast curiosity about how the world works: she would never have been happy settling down to wifedom on the farm, though she would have done her duty without martyrdom, because she also finds satisfaction in the work of her hands, no matter how humble, and in her interest in and sympathy with the people around her. But she's capable of more, and Dag seems the one to give her the world.

In this book, Bujold widens the lens on how this fascinating world works. She does not just give us terrifying monsters in order to keep the plot zippy, she hints at layers and depths below, or behind, those monsters, raising more and more questions about the development of history and culture, about how its magic works. About everything. And because it's Bujold, we know that future stories will depend on all these tantalizing hints; I pored over the map, wondering if this is in fact a science fiction story masking itself as fantasy -- and the Lakewalker and Farmer areas are a post-apocalyptic Ohio. Because we do learn that there was an apocalypse, after the people's ancestors gained far too much power. The Lakewalkers, with their grubby existences, actually have a surprising history.

As the stakes build, the questions become more important -- and it's clear that these two books are the opening of a larger story. Meanwhile the characterization is complex and involving, and overall there is that nifty, hard-to-define humor that I believe springs from a sense of grace. Terrible things can, and do, happen in Bujold's books, but they are never mean books. Compassion, sorrow, hard-won wisdom, infuse the humor with a lingering depth so that I spend days after I finish one of her books thinking it over, then retrieving it to reread passages.

Copyright © 2007 Sherwood Smith

Sherwood Smith is a writer by vocation and reader by avocation. Her webpage is at

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