The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein

A few days ago when I was searching for books to read, I came across The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein. OK, if I am being honest, I think I had read the title before, but had dismissed it, thinking it was about sea travel. Apparently I have something against sea travel??? Anyway, this time I read the actual blurb and discovered that in this case, “steerswoman” refers to a certain class of people in this fantasy world, women (and some men) who travel the land and gather information. Anyone can ask them questions and they must answer, but the person must be willing to answer the Steerswoman’s questions in return, or they will never answer them again, ever ever. So they’re kinda like Google.

I immediately liked several things about this book:

The writing is clear and unpretentious, without any of the awkward attempts at “beautiful” and “deep” language thatsome authors are so fond of.

The book doesn’t waste any time, but starts straight-up with the actual plot, which I really appreciate. Fantasy novels have that tendency to get stuck in dull worldbuilding infodumping before the story is finally allowed to start on page 50 or 100. Of course, The Steerswoman has a strategical advantage: The protagonist’s role as a well of information, who will answer any question she is asked, means that informative dialogue that fleshes out the world is just a natural part of the story.

The most outstanding aspect of The Steerswoman is its protagonist and her analytical way of thinking. It’s just so delightful to watch an intelligent person think. Rowan uses logic and maths to figure out a mystery that’s been fascinating her. It’s a pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge! Science! Not twee pop-culture ~doing science~ nonsense, but science as a way of thinking, a way of approaching the world and trying to make sense of it. It’s inspiring.

The Steerswoman is actually from 1989, with several sequels published over the years – and apparently with more on the way. I feel like I should have known about this series sooner, especially since it has not aged badly at all. I’m reading the sequel now.

There’s so much I have on my “to do, and enjoy it” list, but there’s always room for another book or four.

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