Title: The Sharing Knife: Passage
Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Published: 2008, Eos
This book is the third in Bujold's Sharing Knife series. I loved the first, Beguilement, and liked the second, Legacy, for the most part. So no question I had to read this one.
The Sharing Knife series is set in a world where there are two almost entirely separate races of people living side by side: Lakewalkers and Farmers. Lakewalkers have groundsense, which is basically a magical ability to sense ground, or life force. Their whole purpose in life is to use their groundsense to search out malices, which are sort of life-sucking monsters that crop up without warning. Farmers have no groundsense, and over the centuries great distrust and fear have grown up between the two races.
The series focuses on Dag, a Lakewalker patroller, and Fawn, a Farmer girl, who have fallen in love. This is extremely unusual, and they've found that neither of their societies are willing to accept their relationship. Since they can't live as Lakewalkers and they can't live as Farmers, they are left seeking a new kind of life. Dag has also come to the realization that the division between the two races has become a great danger to both--since Farmers are spreading out over more and more land, they are in increasing danger of malices, but since Lakewalkers are very secretive about what they do, Farmers do not have the knowledge to recognize malices or protect themselves.
Dag has decided that it's time to de-mystify the Lakewalker culture, so he sets about teaching Farmers what Lakewalkers do. He and Fawn secure passage on a boat with a vague plan of putting this into action. They are joined by a ragtag group: the boat boss, Berry, is searching for her lost father and fiance; Berry's little brother and drunkard uncle travel with her; two young Lakewalker boys are running from disgrace; and Dag saves a wretched little orphan who quickly becomes his biggest fan. This unusual group makes the long journey down the Grace River to the sea, encountering many trials along the way.
I loved this book almost as much as I loved Beguilement (i.e. a whole lot). Both Dag and Fawn are so completely lovable--Dag because he is so honorable and trying so hard to do what he knows to be right, and Fawn because she is so sweet and lively, and trying so hard to keep Dag from being crushed under the weight of his obligations. Legacy was a tad too gloomy for me because it seemed like the problems the couple faced were just insurmountable. Their problems in this book are still great, but they are facing them and making some progress. There are also several really funny scenes that make for great comic relief: Dag's fishing and the sheep un-stealing were great.
The first two books in the series are really romantic fantasy and focused primarily on Dag and Fawn's relationship. Passage has a more traditional fantasy plotline: it is more concerned with the political situation between Farmers and Lakewalkers, and Dag's quest to find out more about his Lakewalker abilities and how to share those with Farmers. I loved the romance in the first two, though I think this book is maybe the strongest of the three. It can stand alone, which the first two can not.
Passage is also much more of an ensemble piece--Dag and Fawn are still the center of the story, but the secondary characters are much more important. They are all interesting characters, each with their own little story arcs that neatly tie into the overarching one. The group starts out as a bunch of people trapped on a boat together with nothing in common and plenty reason to dislike each other, and they become a sort of family. It's lovely. ;)
So, yay! Super read. There is to be a fourth book in the series, which I can't wait for. Does anyone know the title or when it is due out? I thought I'd read somewhere that Bujold had already finished writing it.
Oh, and I have to say that I love the illustration on the book jacket. That is SO Dag and Fawn. Do you know how rare it is that those illustrations actually look the way I imagine the characters to be? But this one is just right, and so pretty.