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The Steerswoman #2

The Outskirter's Secret

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Two shining lights hung above, motionless in the night sky as the constellations slowly passed behind them. The common folk knew them well, and used them to count the hours, mark the seasons.

But when the steerswoman Rowan discovered a number of broken blue jewels of clearly magical origin, her investigations led to a startling discovery: a Guidestar had fallen.

There were more than two; the others hung above the opposite side of the world; something had caused one of those to fall.

But what? And what might it mean? Rowan had no answers...

But she knew one thing: where the fallen Guidestar was located. To reach it, she must cross the Inner Lands and pass deep into the wild and deadly Outskirts.

Rowan's traveling companion, Bel, is an Outskirter herself. Together the steerswoman and the warrior-poet have a chance of surviving the cruel landscape, the barbarian tribes, and the bizarre native wildlife.

But there are more secrets than one in the Outskirts: and each dangerous step closer to the Guidestar brings new discoveries, leading to the most startling secret of all...

342 pages, Kindle Edition

First published October 24, 1992

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Rosemary Kirstein

7 books276 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 178 reviews
Profile Image for Nataliya.
743 reviews11.8k followers
April 3, 2022
Rowan laughed. "How does a goat thank someone?"
"By not crapping on your foot."
I was not entirely won over by the first book in this series, The Steerswoman, but something about it made me want to go on even if I was a bit lukewarm about it. And then this book solidly won me over by tickling just the right spots in my brain, and it did end up going in the direction I did not anticipate as Rowan’s desire to find out more about a strange jewel that got wizards all concerned leads her to see how her world may be more than she knew, and her intuitive conclusion about the Guidestars in the sky is the first step to figuring out the puzzle of this place.

To me this was a book of slow revelations about this world, with our protagonist slowly noticing more and more strange things about her medieval-ish world — the clues that will eventually, I assume, lead her to see that it’s a partially terraformed world, bridging fantasy and science fiction. And I really want to see how she puts the clues together, reconciling the world of “wizards” and space stations through application of logic, observations and scientific principles. In a world where dynamite is considered magic, how can you reason out satellites and solar panels?
“Wizards are legends, so I had always believed,” the seyoh said. “I thought this merely made by men with strange knowledge.”

Overall it was almost a leisurely travelogue through the outer edges of this world’s civilization, meeting nomadic “barbarian” tribes whose strange lifestyles have quite solid logical explanations, who casually throw out world like “debriefing” and “rendezvous”, and whose leaders title “seyoh” (as Anna pointed out in our group read) likely comes from good old idea of military “C.O.” And don’t even get me started on the “Routine Bioform Clearance” part!

These clues become more and more clear as the story progresses, but the tension comes from our steerswoman Rowan figuring out how to put things together to arrive at the hints of the things for which her world doesn’t even have rudimentary concepts. And then there’s a quiet satisfaction of Rowan letting go of her preconceptions and wholeheartedly embracing the strange tough world she’s thrown into, making mistakes and learning from them — all while we see things through her analytical and sometimes almost scarily rational viewpoint.

Really, it feels like the landscape and the land are more prominent characters than the actual characters, somewhat reminding me of the feeling I get when I read Kim Stanley Robinson’s books. Landscape is the true protagonist here, and I’m very much ok with it. Kirstein somehow takes the sections that should by all reasoning be tedious - that endless journeying! - and yet somehow makes it interesting, like an odd but fascinating travelogue. Something that I anticipated being just a brief detour in the story actually ended up as a wonderful adventure in its own right, with focus on cultures and customs and societies and even ecology.

Although the plot unfolds slow amidst all the traveling through the Outskirts, there’s that something that happens at the 81% mark that I’m still so unhappy about — but in a good way, since I should have seen it coming but I did not. And the final part of the book - that Rendezvous weather - was done with such wonderful tension that I really loved it.

And now, about to move on to book 3, I’m getting a bit nervous that this series is still unfinished and that it’s been almost 2 decades since the most recent book was published. Am I getting myself into the masochistic reading situation knowing that I’m getting into the series that might never be actually completed?

Solid 4 (Guide)stars.

Buddy read with Anna, Carol and Phil.

My review of the first book in the series, The Steerswoman, is here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

Also posted on my blog.
Profile Image for carol..
1,532 reviews7,857 followers
December 27, 2022
It only took me two months to finish, which probably counts as some kind of personal record for category of Book-I-Actually-Liked-Even-Though. The 'even-though' was the kicker, clearly. Kirstein writes an interesting world, and there's a lot going on both in terms of world-building and in terms of character exploration. But in terms of plot? Not so much. The writing is lovely, however, and once I started reading, I enjoyed it, until interrupted by sleep or obligation (this is not Murderbot, where I would forgot precious hours of rest to finish a book). Honestly, I was reminded of nothing so much as this:


Grainstacks in Bright Sunlight by Claude Monet

Just read a bit of this lyricism:

"Redgrass. Down the hills and up them, over ridges and out to the edge of sight, was a single sweeping carpet of redgrass, rippling in the steady south wind. The grass had already been dried by the morning sun, and its natural brilliance had returned; colors trembled across the land as each individual blade twisted and bent, now showing a brown side, now a bright red. It was difficult to focus clearly on the shifting and flashing; the earth looked feverish, as if Rowan were delirious but unable to decide on the particular hue of her hallucination. Driven by the wind, the hollow reeds tapped against each other, rough blades rustling, setting up a rattling hiss that Rowan had mistaken for the sound of rain."

Really, so much of it is like this. Rowan, the main character of the first Steerswoman book, and Bel, the Outskirter, have traveled east to the uncharted Outskirts. The plan is to join a friendly (-ish) tribe headed further into the Outlands, a place so inhospitable that it needs a large group of people and their herd to survive traveling through it for any prolonged length of time. The writing is lovely and gives a sense of both the beauty and desolation of the lands. As a swimmer and sun-lover, this line was one of my favorites:

"And the sky above was empty and blue: blue as a lake of pure, fresh water."

The pacing, however, is almost glacially slow, in keeping with discovery about secretive tribes among a generally secretive people, living in an unfriendly land. In retrospect, I think Kirstein does an excellent job of bringing the sense of displacement a person must have when shifting into a new landscape and culture. Rowan, however, is far more focused on the culture of the tribe they eventually integrate with than any of the dangerous creatures out in the plains and finds herself struggling with assumptions and understandings of relationships:

"Rowan had come to believe that Bel’s more sophisticated traits were unique to herself, and not held by Outskirters in general. The steerswoman had fallen back on the easier explanation. She was very surprised to discover, first, that she had made such an assumption, and second, that it was wrong."

As I said, I liked it. With such lyricism and world-building, it would be difficult for me not to enjoy it. However, the overarcing plot of discovering the intentions of the wizard in the Outskirts' role in the Guidestar falling makes very little progress. If the series is a journey of a thousand miles, this book felt like mile markers four to six hundred through South Dakota.

Rowan's curiosity is strangely lacking towards most of the creatures of the Outskirts. We get a lot of detail on the grass, a type of thornbush, but most of the other dangers felt incompletely discovered or described. I'm completely able to admit that might have been me, however. I just remember a couple of related incidents of things lying in wait in murky ponds or low-lying areas that seemed cursory.

I also found myself wondering about nutritional deficiencies in the Outskirter diet as well as bacterial aliments. And it isn't just because I'm a nurse--it's because Kirstein brought them up as well. I'm not sure those questions were answered, which is one of the things that is both intriguing and slightly frustrating with this series (is it intentional and to-be-revealed, or an authorial mistake? Hard to know yet).

I'd also note that I felt like Rowan's character was a bit inconsistent. Again, it's one of those things that could be authorial intention or using the character to do what one needed--I can't make up my mind. For someone whose main code is wrapped up in learning, Rowan consistently makes a lot of assumptions. I couldn't decide if it was because she was young--but only in terms of our world; she's supposed to be adult and well-traveled in hers.

“That I am a steerswoman means that I am a constant student. I try to understand everything I encounter. I study what I see, and if there are people who can inform me, I ask questions of them. “The simplest thing I study, and most constantly, is the land itself. I chart the country I cross, as accurately as possible."

But honestly, that's one of the main attractions of the series: a leading woman who approaches the world with her intellect, seeking to understand as well as act within ethical parameters. That, coupled with the writing, will bring me back to the next book. Hopefully, my reading buddies will join me again, and maybe this time I'll bring a little more focus to my reading.

Many thanks to Anna, Nataliya and Phil for the fabulous and enlightening discussions!
Profile Image for Hank.
793 reviews73 followers
January 8, 2022
Lets cut to the chase and quote Allison "why not the fifth star?" There was a bit of disinterest/boredom in the middle that I can't scrub from my rating, otherwise....

Amazing second book in an amazing series. Some of the things I rather enjoy about it are the fact that the two MCs are women who are smart, capable, different and imperfect. It isn't a plot point that they are women and they don't continually talk about being women and that makes me happy. I like the traveling adventure, I like the Outskirter's customs, I like the fact that scouts are sort of their own tribe.

Then there is the one thing that should force me to give it 5 stars, Kirstein's setup and description of the catastrophic event at the end, involves a great deal of accurate weather depiction. Predicting weather has been my career for a very long time and I have a very low tolerance for artistic license in weather "discussions". The movie Tornado is unwatchable (by me), The Day after Tomorrow equally terrible, The Outskirter's Secret...stunning! Without giving away too much, the entire description of wind inflow and outflow and the tornados due to the catastrophic event were soundly based in physics and I couldn't be more pleased.

Still, there is that deathly boring part where Bel and Rowan are trying to convince others that they are right and all the tedium surrounding the rendezvous.

Of course I will read the next two, this series is too good not to. 4.5 stars.
Profile Image for Phil.
1,612 reviews103 followers
April 2, 2022
The second volume in the series continues to delight. Rowan, our Steerswoman, is something like a druid-- she must answer all questions honestly to anyone, with the expectation that this will be reciprocated. Those that refuse to answer her questions become banned' and she no longer answers their queries. In the first volume, Rowan discovers that Slado, the 'king wizard' has basically put a death warrant on her due to her inquiries into strange jewels (which are something akin to solar power generators). Here, she sets off with her outskirter friend Bel to find the site of a crashed satellite far in the outskirter region.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that wizards basically use electricity and other modern tech for their 'spells', but the population at large does not know this. The mysteries go deeper with Rowan's journey into the outskirter region after meeting with more outskirter 'tribes'. The tribes are actually quite well versed in some aspects, even though they no longer read/write. The knowledge is passed down Homer like via long poems/songs. A fun world that seems to be rapidly turning into the realm of scifi.

Via the various clues parsimoniously given out over these two volumes, we know that Rowan's world is actually a human colony 'adrift' for 1000 years or so. The planet is slowly being terraformed in a rather unique way. First, various satellites (deemed 'guidestars' by the population) use microwaves to kill the native flora/fauna. The first plant species to grow back is 'red grass' and is found in the outskirts. Outskirters are basically tribes of goat herders whose goats eat the red grass and their poo serves to kill it as well. Eventually, 'normal' flora and fauna take over the depleted red grass areas, causing the Outskirts to 'move' gradually East.

Something, however, has changed in the Outskirts. For generations, every twenty years strange weather happened in the Outskirts and induced the various tribes to gather peacefully-- a great rendezvous. We gradually learn that the strange weather is due to the guidestars nuking the edges of the Outskirts. With the falling of a guidestar, the pattern has been disrupted. In fact, the 'face' people (tribes that roam the very edges of the red grass areas) are starving as the terraforming process seems to have been halted. Why? Who is the Slado and what does he want? Kirstein teases us here will drips and drabs of the big picture as Rowan slowly unravels what is going on.

Kirstein has fewer pacing issues with this volume in the series and it seems a little more polished as well. Despite the character driven feel of the story (especially in volume one), this is really turning out to be something of a hard science fiction epic. Looking forward to moving on to the next installment!

This was a buddy read with Carol, Nataliya and Anna-- thanks!!
Profile Image for Lobeck.
118 reviews19 followers
November 30, 2014
I'm not even sure where to begin expessing how amazing I find this series and this book in particular - my favorite of the series. This world has two main cultural and geographic divings. The Inner Lands folks live in the center of the know world, and the setting is somewhat standard fantasy. In the Outskirts live nomadic communities who live a simpler life in a harsher environment.

The Steerswomen (or occaisonally steersmen) are a key group in this series; a steerswoman Rowan is the main character. They are lifelong students who travel the world to observe and study it. If asked a question, steerswomen must tell the truth, and anyone to whom they ask a question must do the same or be put under the steerswoman ban. Under ban, no steerswoman will answer even the simplest of questions, which can be a serious consequence in a society where the steerswomen are the gatherers and spreaders of knowledge. In fact, their role in society is so highly valued that it is custom to give them food and shelter for free. I have a soft spot for Rowan because I identify with her thirst for knowledge, her analytical mind, her textbook-like manner of explanation when a question is asked, and her sometimes stilted social skills.

In this book, we travel to the Outskirts and are able to learn about the culture and ecology of these people. Any able-bodied person in a warrior, protecting the tribe from potential attack from other tibes. In injury, old age, or mental inability, outskirters become mertutials, the people who cook, herd goats, or otherwise care for the tribe. Both warriors and mertutials are equally respected. Some evenings are filled with songs, poetry, and tales from a people of surprising intellectual sophistication for having been stereotyped as barbarians. I love outskirter culture, and I particularly love Bel, main character number two, best friend to Rowan, who is both fierce warrior and singer/poet. I would love to be more like her but sadly end up more like her literal, bookish counterpart.

The best thing about this series is following Rowan's investigation. Though this is a fantasy setting, it is clear from early on that there is some very sophisticated technology on this world that the common folk are not allowed to understand. Anything high-tech is labeled as magic, a catch-all cagegory for anything whose causes are not understood. Rowan, of course, will not rest until she does understand, and it is amazing to watch her mind wrap around concepts that are commonplace to us but far beyond anything she's ever dealt with. I also enjoy learning in this book about the unique ecological systems of the outskirts, which end up being an important piece of the puzzle. I don't think you necessarily have to love fantasy to get into this series because unlike most fantasy it plays to a broader type of audience. It is these unusual qualties that make the book stand out for me and that push it into my top 10 category.

The one drawback: most charcters are straight, which would be fine if I weren't already drowning in straight fantasy and in a world with a hetereosexual and gender normal paradigm. But again, as with Flewelling's books, there is not excessive differentiation between women and men main characters, which is a redeaming quality.
Profile Image for Ryan.
270 reviews58 followers
August 20, 2021
This book, this series, will change the way you use the term 'worldbuilding'.

My thoughts about this book and the others in the series can be found here
Profile Image for Allison Hurd.
Author 3 books694 followers
December 19, 2021
A great sequel, perhaps even stronger than the first book.


Things to love:

-The world. Truly amazing in its scope and detail. I love that we get to see the Outskirts in detail--from the difference in temperatures to botany to goat droppings.

-The characters. Rowan is a lot easier for me to handle in this one because she's sort of constantly on her left foot, so to speak, and she does so with grace and respect. I really liked that. And the Outskirters...what a freakin' cool culture with so many great character moments!

-The mystery. It keeps growing, even as it becomes clearer! Really just great.

-It got me! I got feels, and also I totally didn't guess the secret! That almost never happens!

-The writing. Perfect for this story. It never got in the way. What astonishes here is the story, not the prettiness of the prose, which is clean, with very little filler.

So why not the fifth star?

Look, there's basically nothing wrong with this book. It's empirically good scifi. 5 stars for me though tend to be books that either absolutely blow me away, or that never wobble on story moments. Here, I got grumpy at a burgeoning romance that luckily did not become overly descriptive, and found 2 areas where the logic was a bit too linear without addressing the same level of ambiguity shown elsewhere in the deductions. So, by its own metric, I don't think it was 100% successful for me, but it's a solid 95% or better.

Definitely read this if you enjoyed the first book.
Profile Image for Mareike.
Author 4 books55 followers
February 7, 2021
Kirstein expertly continues to expand her world and hint at parts of its history. She keeps me on my toes, but at the same time she writes characters that are deeply human and cultures feel very, very real.
I can't wait to see how this story continues.
Profile Image for Jan.
879 reviews169 followers
July 28, 2021
Another entertaining adventure with Rowan and Bel. Very different from Book 1, but still highly enjoyable. Another road trip, but this one is set in a different part of Kirstein's world. The flavour is a little like they are travelling with a nomadic Mongol tribe.

I love the original and interesting ideas Kirstein has come up with. I haven't read a book with a setting and characters quite like this one. The plot moved a little slowly at times, but the characters took you with them on their journey. I did not guess the outskirter's secret until it was revealed, and I was taken by surprise (in an interested way). Not what I expected or imagined at all.

The developing mystery about the 'wizard' Slado and his intentions is still holding my interest. I liked the way various tidbits have been revealed. On to Book 3 :)

Profile Image for Robin.
488 reviews99 followers
February 2, 2017
I love how Kirstein takes her time telling this story, again shrugging off any traditional expectations about how the story in book two should follow from book one. If you are a fan of continuous world building that fits in naturally with the evolution of a story and characters, this series is for you.

Because of the detailed depiction of a distinctly non-Western society -- nomadic, well-organized, proud, and tough as nails due to the challenges of their environment -- I was reminded of another book published in the same year: Robert Jordan's The Shadow Rising. Like the Aiel in Jordan's series, the Outlanders are presented as mysterious, barbaric, and dangerously violent when the "mainstream" characters first encounter and interact with them. Through the eyes of one of these protagonists, we learn what it can be like to embed with a culture utterly unlike our own and share the character's journey of curiosity to appreciation to respect to honor, understanding, and meaningful connection. Kirstein outdoes Jordan in her depth and focus in what is ultimately also a more accessible and better-written story. Full marks.
488 reviews56 followers
May 21, 2018
The one where Rowan and Bel explore the Outskirts and make shocking discoveries.

Wow! I really enjoyed the first book, but this is a level up.

The Outskirters are the ones that the villagers view as barbarians, and in some ways their culture is exactly what you'd predict, while in other ways it's entirely different. I particularly loved the role played by poetry. And I liked the introduction of the Face People -- the ones that the barbarians view as barbarians -- and the reasons why they do the things they do.

And then the pleasant slow-ish exploration of other cultures got knocked down by wave upon wave of danger, and I read the last hundred pages all in one dizzying swoop and ended up blinking and dazed.

Worldbuilding predictions: I did not know when I started reading this series that it was a five-book series with four books finished. I don't usually volunteer for suffering like that.

As the publication date gets closer to the present, it gets more annoying that nobody is gay. The fact that we're not meeting dozens and dozens of pregnant women is also kind of puzzling, and if it's the result of some physical condition that reduces human fertility, I'm afraid I need some explanation for why the Outskirters and villagers haven't responded with a lot of restrictions on the behavior of women
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,232 reviews1,016 followers
September 28, 2013
In this book, the story begun in "The Steerswoman" continues. The Steerswoman Rowan and her friend, the Outskirter Bel, travel to find the source of mysterious jewels. At first, this was no more than a routine inquiry, but as deception and violence follow them, they begin to suspect there's something more to discover. Is there a plot by an evil wizard to disrupt weather patterns and take over the world? Is the way of life followed by the barbarians of the Outskirts threatened? What do the Guidestars, which have long been used in navigation, but now, Rowan suspects, may be more significant, have to do with it? The more Rowan discovers, the more questions she has - especially concerning the Outskirts, and the land beyond, which seems completely inimical to human life.
An excellent novel, especially notable for its vividly drawn cultures.
Profile Image for Maree.
803 reviews24 followers
May 4, 2011
*This review contains spoilers for "The Steerswoman," the first book in this series*

The second book in the Steerswoman series picks up very quickly from where the first one leaves off. Will has gone off to become a wizard, and while I have no doubt he'll appear in later books to help foil the mysteriously evil Slado's plot, he didn't make an appearance in this book at all, which, though I have nothing against the boy, made it all the better.

We're again left with Bel and Rowan together as traveling companions, and in my mind they make a very agreeable pair, with each covering the other's weaknesses in knowledge and figuring things out. They also compliment one another as characters, in that they have disagreements and can remain playful just the same. It's more fun when they team up against others, where we again enjoy Bel's quick wit and forward manner. This time, however, it's Rowan who is unused to the customs as they head to the Outskirts to take a look at the site where Bel's father found so many of the curious blue jewels, now believed to be part of a fallen guide star, so long ago.

For all the mostly useless walking around they did throughout the book (and it was pretty much throughout the ENTIRE book, as Outskirters tend to roam with their herd of goats) it was a captivating book. Bel and Rowan become immersed in tribal politics, which is interesting because of the different point of view the Outskirters have from the Inner Landers. Their job is to conquer the land, not live in harmony with it, and even their death ritual involves flinging body parts around to kill the land.

Again, I'm kind of at a loss to explain why I enjoyed this book so much, but I'd probably put it down to the characters -- I love how Rowan is always curious and thinking, and her discoveries don't seem put on at all when she makes them, like other books I can think of. And Bel's straightforward bluntness is continually refreshing, in addition to the tribe's.

I felt the eventual discovery of

Overall, I'm amazed at how into the book I was when I consider that it didn't seem like much happened in it toward the main plot. But I'll definitely be reading the others!
Profile Image for Kevin.
1,500 reviews34 followers
November 30, 2021
I've read reviews of The Outskirter’s Secret, that criticize it for being too long, I didn't feel that way at all. I loved the details that we get on Bel's homeland tribes. I hated to hear that they gave up

I about to start the 3rd book in the series, I can't wait to see where this one takes us.
Profile Image for Jess.
290 reviews49 followers
September 29, 2021
I liked this one even better than the first. Something that occurred to me as I was reading the first one, that has only gotten more noticeable as I get to know this world, is how much these books and their heroine remind me of the Winnowing Flame trilogy (the one that starts with The Ninth Rain) by Jen Williams. These came first--the first Steerswoman book was published in '89, Ninth Rain in 2017--but I read the Williams books first. Though they're very different stories, I'm struck by some of the similarities and can't help wondering if Williams read these and was influenced by them.

Absolutely lovely.
Profile Image for Frances.
499 reviews36 followers
December 23, 2017
No joke though. I actually enjoyed this book more than the first. It follows through, treats the reader with respect, and continues to explore then world EXTREMELY thoughtfully. And “world” encompasses more than just the environment: the makeup of the protagonists continues to deepen in the most fascinating way.

I was a little concerned because the “villain” is so abstract, but the author continues to be effective. So good. I’m beginning to think on who to recommend this series to.
Profile Image for Mike.
387 reviews94 followers
April 17, 2018
So when I picked up this series, I saw that book 4 had been published in 2004, and concluded that the series was complete (that's good!). Then I learned that was not the case, but that Del Ray had lost interest and stopped publishing them (that's bad). Then I learned that Rosemary Kirstein had re-acquired the rights, had re-released them in e-book and trade paperback, and was planning to self-publish 5 and 6 (that's good!). Then I learned the frogurt is also cursed (that's bad). Anyway, Rosemary, if you pay attention to Goodreads reviews at all: move forward with publishing 5 and 6 ASAP, because at the rate I'm going, I'll be through with the four currently available in the next few days. And I need answers damn it!

Moving on.

This features more of what made book 1 so awesome: a science fiction story disguised as a fantasy story, with a protagonist who uses reason and learning as her weapons of choice. Still somewhat of a hypercompetent Mary Sue, but I am finding that I like her enough that doesn't bother me.

She's also doing a great job at gradually revealing what is going on, on two levels. On the one hand, we're learning things right along with Rowan, as she gathers information on everything that's been going on in the world in general and the Outskirts in particular. And on the other hand, knowing that this is a science-fiction story and having a very strong background in science (and, possibly more valuable, in consuming sci-fi) I have a good sense of lots of things that are going on that are simply beyond Rowan's understanding of the universe.

So like I said: I want more.
Profile Image for Rosie.
119 reviews15 followers
February 8, 2021
Similar to book 1 this one slowly builds, laying on discoveries, information, characters and a richly realised and depicted life of the places and people encountered, leading to a building intensity that is gripping.

This upended my expectations of what it would actually be about in several ways and it is so much better than I imagined. I will have a hard time not jumping tight into part 3.

The ever growing and expanding mystery is as captivating as the growing world being revealed.

Profile Image for Mark.
389 reviews9 followers
November 3, 2017
The sequel to the superb The Steerswoman somehow manages to be at least good as the original despite the clever twist on science and fantasy no longer being a twist.

Much of the appeal for me is that the order of steerswomen this captures the joy and excitement of scientists, and scientists at their very best on a good day. They know things, but what is really important is learning, and learning requires embracing exactly those things they are ignorant of. They are impressively competent and deliberately walk away from their comfort zone. They will all share their hard-won answers freely, but they really glory in asking the questions. The protagonist Rowan has all these traits.

Also, there's goblins and swordfighting.

Narratively the bulk of this book is a classic SF/fantasy travelogue structure, with descriptions of alien landscapes, wildlife, weather, and customs, as Rowan heads into the Outskirts with her friend Bel. Rowan is so out of her element that it's not just that she doesn't know which insects are poisonous are which aren't anymore, she can't even tell them apart when they are pointed out to her. (I completely sympathize.) The multivolume arc with the wizards (who are everything steerswomen are not) advances just a little, in about the direction anyone would have guessed from the first book but fairly cleverly in detail and execution.
Profile Image for John.
1,608 reviews50 followers
August 10, 2020
Wow, the author created a rich society and filled it with complex characters in the opener, and here she does it again with both--sending Rowan and Bel into the Outskirts to check out the fallen Guide Star and having them fall in with several communities of Outskirters. The only quibble I can make is that, because she's such a dab hand at creating believable details (as well as the broader stuff) it seems odd that Rowan can slaughter experienced warriors in droves when she fights. Otherwise terrific. Reread Feb 2015 (oddly, I had forgotten most of the story so it was like reading a new book). [Re-read 8/20, in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic.]

Memorable lines:

A steerswoman might not know everything, but everything that a steerswoman did know was true.

"It's the large things in life that drive us, that we measure ourselves by; but it's the small things, the daily things that--that become precious to us."
Profile Image for Juushika.
1,550 reviews163 followers
July 21, 2016
Rowan heads deep into the Outskirts in search of the fallen Guidestar. The series's fantasy-meets-science fiction premise doesn't grow tiresome, in large part because the major plot twist is unpredictable but logical--drawing the reader into the protagonist's limited PoV, while still allowing their wider knowledge to inform the worldbuilding. The strengths of the first book, the detailed, lived-in world and the compelling ways in which characters reason through the mysteries that surround them, persist. And the developments in this volume as significant enough that this doesn't feel like a middle or a filler book, despite two more sequels. I loved this, and can't wait to continue the series.
Profile Image for Jeffrey.
216 reviews5 followers
December 13, 2021
Great! The world seemed much larger and more richly drawn this time around. The book benefitted from the scaffolding laid down in the first installment and from a narrower focus just on the outskirters.

The story made it clear that my Grossman-Stiglitz reading of the first book is not the central conceit of the story, but I knew that was just my particular flight of fancy. The unveiling of more of the true thrust of the series was highly satisfying.

It is odd that for both this and the first book, I have really taken my time. I love both books and the direction of the series overall so far. Usually if I really like a book, I will just gobble it up, but with these, there is so much clarity to the world that I can easily take my time and savor it a bit more.
Profile Image for Heidi.
450 reviews23 followers
August 31, 2014
This is one of those series where I finish each book in a sitting but then make myself wait between books so I'll appreciate them more. The characters are interesting, the plot is slowly showing itself, and I want to cheer on each discovery and it's interconnections. Very enjoyable read which I'm sure I'll still be slowly processing for awhile.
Profile Image for Anna.
728 reviews16 followers
December 16, 2022
2022 I completed a reread in advance of an upcoming buddy-read with Carol.’s Chaos Oasis group, liberally highlighting and bookmarking points for discussion.
I just love these books and I was so happy to hear them mentioned by Dan Moren in a recent Incomparable podcast, and I’m delighted to have them be the focus of a buddy read here.
Profile Image for Xan  Shadowflutter.
160 reviews7 followers
March 15, 2022
The first volume was good, and this one is better. The deep dive into nomadic tribal life, customs, traditions, and daily life was fascinating. And the rest of the story is really good too. I should add that while there is action, the emphasis is on world building over action, and some may not like that. I thought it was great.
Profile Image for Dearbhla.
639 reviews13 followers
May 4, 2017
I read the first book in this series, The Steerswoman because it was recommended by Renay.

This book follows on from book one, so I would highly recommend that you read the first book first. I mean, you could pick this up and follow along with no clue as to what has gone before, but why would you do such a thing? You’d miss out on all the backstory and you wouldn’t know how Bel and Rowan came to meet. Go read The Steerswoman first, things’ll work much better that way.

Determined to learn the truth about the Guidestars–two points of light that hang motionless in the sky–Rowan sets out into the Outskirts, where barbarian tribes and the land itself could destroy her. (blurb from Goodreads)

I will admit that it took me a while to get my head into this book. It seemed like Bel and Rowan were just wandering, wandering, wandering. But that could’ve been because I was reading in 5 minute bursts, and infrequently. So it probably didn’t take up too much time in the book, but in my head it seemed to go on forever.

I didn’t mind it too much, because I like both Bel and Rowan, I like the way they approach the world. They have similarities, but in many respects they are very different. Of course they come from different backgrounds and cultures so they should be different. So while I was enjoying spending time with them I was also wondering when exactly the story was going to kick off properly.

But kick off it did, and soon enough I was totally engrossed. I didn’t even mind my insomnia on a few nights as I took the opportunity to read a few chapters while waiting for sleep. And I’ll admit, I read more than I had intended, so that’s a sign of a good book.

The main plot revolves around the quest to discover where the fallen Guidestar is, and what it is, but also to discover is it part of a wizard’s plot. And if so, why?

But in the course of that quest we get to spend a lot of time among the Outskirters, the “barbarians” of the blurb above. And they have a really interesting culture and outlook on life. They are constantly on the move, the land cannot support them if they stay in one place. And the land they travel through is actively hostile against them, plus they often come into conflict with other tribes. So they live a lot of their life under threat. A fact which makes some of their laws and practices seem a bit harsh, but they have to deal with the realities of their land.

I really enjoyed this book and would highly recommend the series for anyone who enjoys science fiction/fantasy.
Profile Image for Kerry.
1,511 reviews83 followers
June 16, 2019

This is absolutely my kind of crack. An apparently fantasy world that slowly discovers it's really a science fiction one where knowledge has been lost or suppressed (and if the latter, who is doing it and what are their motivations?).

The technology involved at this point seems to be a terraforming process that started off as a solid plan (gradually push the border with the native fauna out by killing everything from satellite - radiation, microwave energy? - fill the buffer zone with redgrass and Outskirters and gradually reclaim and expand the borders, then repeat. Following on being the Inner lands expand by encroaching on the inner, friendlier buffer zone). Also reason for four satellites, so can spread across whole planet.

But now Slado has the technology and don't yet know his goals, but probably not altruistic terraforming.

Part of me wants to read on and on, but I'm fully aware there are two more books still to be written and Kirstein writes very slowly. So instead, I think I'd better hoard my treasure for now.

This reminds me of other favourite series I want to reread. Lear's Daughters and The Cycle of Fire for starters. Also Wars of Light and Shadow, but I'm not considering that until it is finished. Then I will do a reread, but without such deliberate analysis, or I'll be overwhelmed.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
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