Welcome to my blog. If you're addicted to books, like I am, then you've come to the right place. I mostly write about books and my experiences reading them. These are very personal book reviews. (If you can even call them book reviews...) I’m a true believer that none of us lives in a vacuum. When you read a book, watch a movie, listen to a song, etc., you absorb that art form into your life experience, and it changes you. But you also change it, because no two people see anything the same way. The way I interpret a novel may be totally different from the way you will. It’s still the same novel, but the meaning for each of us is unique. Once you express that meaning, it changes the art. So these posts are about how these books fit into my life. I’d love to hear how they fit into yours. Please make comment and share your experience.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Review of the Sharing Knife series by Lois McMaster Bujold

Let’s talk about ruts.  How many of you readers out there find yourself in a rut from time to time?  All of the sudden you realize that everything you read is the same.  I’ve gone through an Oprah book phase, a classic phase, a Janet Evanovich phase, a mystery phase, a Sci-fi phase, a historical drama phase, etc.  From time to time I realize how deep the rut has gotten and I try to climb out of it.  When I most recently went looking for something outside my norm, I tried to find a “fantasy” novel written by a woman, because normally when I read sci-fi it’s a military/space drama written by a man.  My very brief search ended with Lois McMaster Bujold’s Sharing Knife series.  It consists of four books, Beguilement, Legacy, Passage and Horizon

The Sharing Knife series is set in a fictional world, without modern technology or warfare.   Two groups of people live in this world.  The “Farmers” are regular humans just like us, with no special powers.  The “Lakewalkers” are also human, but with a developed sense of the world around them.  They can sense and manipulate energy, which they call “ground.”  I imagine “ground” as similar to the Chinese concept of Chi—a life force that flows through all living things, although in the books, even dead and inanimate objects have ground as well, it just manifests differently.  Because of their “groundsense,” the Lakewalkers live longer and grow taller than farmers.  They can also sense the location of other beings within a finite distance and they can feel the emotions of others as well.  They use ground for healing and they imbue ground in the products they create to make them stronger or better.  For example, a leather coat with ground reinforcement may be strong enough to repel arrows.  A ground reinforced rope may never break, etc.  Their groundsense and abilities also give Lakewalkers the ability to track and kill the “malices,” which are creatures that suck the ground out of everything around them, leaving a trail of blight that takes decades or even centuries to recover. 
In this world, Lakewalkers and Farmers do not mix.  Farmers generally misunderstand and fear Lakewalkers for their seemingly “magical” powers; and because Farmers cannot sense or “veil” their own ground, many Lakewalkers feel uncomfortable around them because they feel bombarded by all this “loose” energy and emotion.  And when two groups of people don’t understand each other, problems are bound to happen. 
The main protagonists in the series are Fawn, a young Farmer woman, who is fleeing from her overbearing family and facing an unwanted pregnancy.  Along the way she meets Dag, a one-handed, middle-aged Lakewalker, who rescues her from some bandits in the road.  When a malice threatens the pair, their lives become entwined even more.    Each of these books has a separate plot, and yet they are all moving in one direction.  Our main characters’ desire is to bridge the gap between Farmers and Lakewalkers so they may work together to overcome the seemingly endless threat of malices that endangers both groups.
I normally try not to read other people’s reviews before I write my own.  I can be spongy and I don’t want another reviewer to influence what I’m going to say.  But I did read several reviews of this series of books, both positive and negative.  Interesting to me was that another female reviewer blasted the series for being too “romance-like” (and she couldn’t get past the age difference between Dag & Fawn).  A more positive review was from a man who admitted they were “chick books” on the surface, but said that if other men discounted them because the first book seemed too much like a romance, then they would be missing out on a great series.  I agree that the first book does have a love story at the core; the two main characters struggle a bit getting together, but the rest of the series won’t happen if they don’t.  If these two characters don’t get together, there is no motivation to move the story forward and bridge the gap between these two groups.  So once we get Dag & Fawn together, the adventures get better because they both are experiencing the other’s culture and finding ways to maneuver through a world different from their own.     
CF (Crack Factor) – 10.  Honestly, I couldn’t put these books down.  I picked up the first one only planning to skim the first 10 pages since it was due back at the library the next day.  I wanted to see if it was interesting enough to check back out some other time.  I read 100+ pages that night.  Bujold definitely knows how to keep the plot moving forward.  These are action books.  Each book took me only about two days to devour.  I work full time and have two little kids, so if I’m making the time to power through a book, it’s good. 
TSF-Tears Shed Factor – N/A—This series isn’t going to make you cry with emotion wrenching parts, although there were a few parts that got to me---mainly because I empathized with Fawn’s insecurities. 
DF (Distraction Factor) – 10.  I actually found myself thinking about this “Sharing Knife” world quite often.  There were so many bits of Dag-wisdom that I found really insightful.  And Fawn’s emotional and social struggles and triumphs really resonated with me. 
PF (People Factor) -- 9.5.  Bujold’s characters are great.  She does a wonderful job of describing them without hitting you over the head with description.  She also gives her characters room to grow and change; character development is something I always appreciate.  And for all the likeable characters, she also gives you a good bunch of nasty ones to hate.  I swear you meet the most horrible mother-in-law ever created in the 2nd book, Legacy
WSF (Writing Skills Factor) –8.  Bujold’s style is a little different.  She moves easily from Dag’s and Fawn’s perspectives.  The story and ideas come across clearly and beautifully.  She does well to convey the “folksy” conversation of her characters when writing dialog, which doesn’t always come off well with other authors.  She also does a good job of giving description of characters and scenes without over-doing it, or making it seem forced. 
STF (Story Telling Factor) – 9.  I love this world Bujold created.  Each book has a separate plot and yet, they all move toward the overall series plot of bridging the gap between these two disparate groups. 
BABF (Bad Ass Babe Factor) – 8.  Bujold creates many strong female characters.  On the surface Fawn may not appear to be a BAB, but she is fierce in her own way.  Although physically small, she’s as tough and brave as they come and despite her diminutive stature, she is courageous enough to do what she needs to do to protect the people she loves.  There are many other strong female characters in the books as well and I loved how the Lakewalker culture has total equality for men and women.  The women are warriors and healers and leaders just as much as the men are.  And the society is matrilineal.  Very cool. 
HTAF (Too be explained soon but basically the hot guy factor) – 8.  Dag is a great character; he’s tough and wise.  He’s incredibly ethical and very creative in his way of thinking.   Even though his wife is 1/3 his age, he treats her like a complete equal.  He upends his entire life for her.  
It was hard to say goodbye to these characters and this world.  Bujold tied up the story nicely, but I still left it wanting more…Total rating:  8.9

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