fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Lois McMaster Bujold The Sharing Knife 3. PassagePassage by Lois McMaster Bujold

Fantasy comes in all forms. Epic fantasy. Dark fantasy. Contemporary fantasy. Historical fantasy. Erotic fantasy. Then there’s The Sharing Knife series by award-winning author Lois McMaster Bujold (THE VORKOSIGAN SAGA, The Spirit Ring, the FIVE GODS novels), which is an altogether different kind of fantasy…

In a familiar world that recalls The Last of the Mohicans, there are two peoples — Lakewalkers and farmers — who are ignorant of each other’s ways. Despite this centuries-old prejudice, a young farmer girl and a Lakewalker patroller manage to fall in love and get married, which is basically Beguilement and Legacy in a nutshell. Obviously there’s much more to the story like the vast cultural barriers that the lovers have to face, the age difference (Dag is 55, Fawn 18), their families to contend with, and many other complications including Fawn’s unwanted pregnancy, Dag’s first wife, and his handicap. And what’s a fantasy novel without a little magic and adventure? That’s where groundsense abilities, sharing knives, mud-men, mind-slaves and malices come in. But overall, the premise in The Sharing Knife is really quite simple and because of this simplicity the author is able to really imbue her characters and the world they reside in with a depth and realism that is lacking in a lot of fantasy today.

The real beauty of what Bujold is trying to accomplish, though, starts to take shape in Passage, the third SHARING KNIFE novel. Still recovering from the climactic events that took place in Legacy, Dag Redwing Hickory and Fawn Bluefield go on a belated wedding trip by boat down to the Southern Sea. On this journey, they are joined by new companions including Fawn’s brother Whit, the farmer boy Hod that Dag accidentally ‘beguiled,’ a couple of in-training Lakewalker patrollers (Remo and Barr) who have gotten in trouble with their elders, and Captain Berry Clearcreek who is hunting for her missing father, brother and betrothed which eventually leads to an even greater mystery and a new threat…

What’s interesting about this book is that while Passage is a continuation of The Sharing Knife series and again revolves around Dag and Fawn — specifically alternating between their two points-of-view — the novel is a bit different from the original duology. For one, the romantic elements have been really toned down. Passage focuses more on what Dag is going to do with his life now that he’s ‘retired’ from patrolling and how he can bridge that cultural gap between Lakewalkers and farmers. As a result, Dag spends a lot of time explaining ‘secret’ Lakewalker customs to farmers and experimenting with groundsense, which introduces some new abilities like ground-ripping as well as offering intriguing insights into medicine making, beguilement, and knife making. At the same time, though, these experiments and explanations bring up a bunch of new questions that will hopefully be addressed in the next Sharing Knife book, as well as explaining where the Lakewalkers got their abilities in the first place.

Secondly, supporting characters are figured more prominently in this book. In other words, when I was reading Beguilement and Legacy the only characters I really cared about were Dag and Fawn, which makes sense since they were the center of the story. In Passage however, the book is not just about Dag and Fawn, but also their companions, and by the end of the novel I came to think of everyone as this one big happy family. Lastly, unlike the duology which was obviously one single story split into two volumes, Passage — for all that it is a sequel and possesses overriding themes and plotlines that will be concluded in Horizon — is essentially a self-contained novel.

Of course, for all its differences Passage remains a Sharing Knife novel. That means the prose remains accessible and colorful — particularly the Lakewalkers/farmers’ dialect — the pace is page-turning, and the story is character-driven. That also means there’s not very much action in the book, at least not the kind that is normally associated with fantasy novels. In fact, Passage may have less action in it than either of the previous Sharing Knife book since the mystery/threat that our heroes do face is resolved relatively quickly. Then again, Passage is not meant to be an action-thriller and instead, it’s the journey and how it changes the characters that is important. From that viewpoint, Bujold succeeds wildly. And then there’s the good-natured humor that has been a staple of the series so far and continues in Passage, including a sheep-rescuing operation, a giant catfish, and a joke involving pots, as well as various other humorous asides.

As a whole, Passage is another delightful and gripping entry in The Sharing Knife saga, a fantasy series that continues to offer readers a unique, but no less rewarding experience. So if you decide to give Lois McMaster Bujold’s SHARING KNIFE a chance, expect characters you can’t help but fall in love with, a world that sometimes feels more alive than our own, and themes that we can all relate to including prejudice, sacrifice, family, and of course, love…

The Sharing Knife — (2006-2009) Publisher: Troubled young Fawn Bluefield seeks a life beyond her family’s farm. But en route to the city, she encounters a patrol of Lakewalkers, nomadic soldier–sorcerers from the northern woodlands. Feared necromancers armed with mysterious knives made of human bone, they wage a secret, ongoing war against the scourge of the “malices,” immortal entities that draw the life out of their victims, enslaving human and animal alike. It is Dag — a Lakewalker patroller weighed down by past sorrows and onerous present responsibilities — who must come to Fawn’s aid when she is taken captive by a malice. They prevail at a devastating cost — unexpectedly binding their fates as they embark upon a remarkable journey into danger and delight, prejudice and partnership… and perhaps even love.

Lois McMaster Bujold The Sharing Knife 1. Beguilement 2. Legacy 3. Passage 4. Horizon Lois McMaster Bujold The Sharing Knife 1. Beguilement 2. Legacy 3. Passage 4. Horizon Lois McMaster Bujold The Sharing Knife 1. Beguilement 2. Legacy 3. Passage 4. Horizon Lois McMaster Bujold The Sharing Knife 1. Beguilement 2. Legacy 3. Passage 4. Horizon


  • Robert Thompson

    ROBERT THOMPSON (on FanLit's staff July 2009 — October 2011) is the creator and former editor of Fantasy Book Critic, a website dedicated to the promotion of speculative fiction. Before FBC, he worked in the music industry editing Kings of A&R and as an A&R scout for Warner Bros. Besides reading and music, Robert also loves video games, football, and art. He lives in the state of Washington with his wife Annie and their children Zane and Kayla. Robert retired from FanLit in October 2011 after more than 2 years of service. He doesn't do much reviewing anymore, but he still does a little work for us behind the scenes.

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