The Steerswoman

Rosemary Kirstein

Book cover

I picked up this book because of a mention on Slate Star Codex that piqued my interest. I’m glad that I did. It’s rare to find fantasy literature that breaks the Tolkien/Martin mold, and while this didn’t rise to the quality heights of The Broken Earth, it was a refreshingly original tale–and held up really well for something published in 1989. In some way that I can’t quite put my finger on, it’s what I wished “The Name of the Wind” (which I disliked) had been. I guess both are sort of fantasy mysteries?

I found Rowan, the eponymous Steerswoman, to be an interesting protagonist. The lore of the order is cool, and I enjoyed the fact that she didn’t have any particular superpowers, or even really outstanding qualities besides having a sharp and careful intellect. She’s quite reliant on her “party members” Bel and Willam. My only real quibble is that Kirstein starts out describing Rowan as very bad/uncomfortable at lying due to her training, but very soon after that during the fortress infiltration she seems to become very good at it for no apparent reason. I thought it was a nice bit of characterization and was disappointed that it was dropped.

In this post-Rise-of-Skywalker world, I also very much appreciated the characterization of Rowan, Bel, and Willam as more or less ordinary people with no particular lineage, destiny, or prophecy.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars