The Sharing Knife: Beguilement by Lois McMaster Bujold: B

From the front flap:
Young Fawn Bluefield has fled her family’s farm hoping to find work in the city of Glassforge. Uncertain about her future and the troubles she carries, Fawn stops for a drink of water at a roadside inn, where she counters a patrol of Lakewalkers, enigmatic soldier-sorcerers from the woodland culture to the north. Though Fawn has heard stories about the Lakewalkers, she is unaware that they are engaged in a perilous campaign against inhuman and immortal magical entities known as “malices,” creatures that suck the life out of all they encounter, and turn men and animals into their minions.

Dag is an older Lakewalker patroller who carries his past sorrows as heavily as his present responsibilities. When Fawn is kidnapped by the malice Dag’s patrol is tracking, Dag races to rescue her. But in the ensuing struggle, it is not Dag but Fawn who kills the creature—at dire cost—and an uncanny accident befalls Dag’s sharing knife, which unexpectedly binds their two fates together.

For all that this book took me something like six weeks to finish, I find that I don’t actually have all that much to say about it. The description quoted above admirably sums up the beginning of the novel, in which Dag rescues Fawn from some bandits, her pregnant status provokes a nasty creature to kidnap her back again, and they end up taking down a “malice” together. I can’t help but think that the reason the blurb doesn’t touch on any plot after this point is that there really isn’t much of one.

Beguilement is really more of a romance than a fantasy novel, though Bujold has still done a good job with the worldbuilding, working in details on the differences between Fawn’s and Dag’s cultures throughout the novel. But after the malice is defeated, there isn’t much going on except them riding on horses, staying in inns, developing fancies for one another, finally consummating their relationship, doing it many more times and often outdoors in the company of bugs, encountering Fawn’s not-so-supportive family, convincing them to support a marriage, and getting hitched. I guess if I lay it out like that it looks like a lot happened, but really, how much of that sounds like a fantasy novel?

The fact that the characters are both likable makes up for some of the plotlessness, at least. Fawn has had a very sheltered upbringing where her thirst for knowledge was not encouraged. Now, with support for her quick wits, she proves herself to be pretty clever and resourceful. Dag is a very experienced patroller who was widowed before Fawn’s birth (there’s quite a big age difference between them) and has been fiercely solitary ever since, so opening himself up to her is a pretty unique experience for him. Because there’s a lot that Fawn doesn’t know and is curious about, it sometimes seems like you’ve got the “wise man teaching ignorant girl” dynamic going on, but it’s not really pervasive. There’s one scene near the end where Dag praises Fawn for a brilliant leap of logic that comes across as completely admiring and not at all patronizing. It even made me a bit sniffly after seeing how little her family appreciates her.

Too, Bujold simply writes really well. Without being overly wordy, she can paint a scene so vividly that it’s incredibly easy to visualize. The best example is probably the part where Dag has found the malice’s lair and is taking in the layout of the area: I swear I could picture it perfectly after only a couple of sentences. And even if the parts with Fawn’s family were rather uncomfortable to read, considering their dismissive treatment of her, they were still entertaining. Probably, enduring all that strife was necessary so as to be as relieved as the main characters when they were finally able to leave it all behind.

While I like Fawn and Dag both together and separately, I do hope that there’s more of a plot to the next book. A typical fantasy series would have an epic quest to wipe out evil, but I sort of doubt Bujold is going to adhere to standard genre tropes. Because I do admire her writing, I’m willing to stick around and see how the story develops, but if this was the first installment of a story by anyone else, I’m not sure I’d be too keen to continue with it.

Additional reviews of The Sharing Knife:Beguilement can be found at Triple Take.

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  1. Did you pick up on how the setting differs from your standard high fantasy western European setting? That was the first thing that struck me about the book, and I found myself sucked in by the worldbuilding as much as anything else.

  2. It seemed very… Americany somehow.

  3. That was her intent. I had to go look it up afterwards to make sure. 😀

    I sort of think the romancey aspect of it is on purpose, btw. The romance review blogs I follow recommend it a lot.

  4. I sort of felt how you did when I first read Beguilement (and I had to wait almost nine months for Legacy to be published). The problem is that Beguilement/Legacy were written as one book, but for publishing reasons, they were split into two, which meant that Beguilement’s climax actually happens in Legacy. I assure you that Legacy, Passage, and Horizon all have proper climaxes where many lives (including Dag and Fawn’s) are at stake.

    I recently re-read part of Beguilement, and my opinion of it has gone up a lot. When I first read it, I was used to the flash and pizazz of the Vorkosigan Saga, which is still my favorite Bujold series. The Sharing Knife is more subtle. While it does not seem like a lot is happening, there is a lot of build up in Beguilement for what eventually happens, which is pretty epic. However, it would have been harder to appreciate just how epic the events in Horizon are if I hadn’t read Beguilement because they are subtle-epic (is that an oxymoron?). It was also nice to see Dag and Fawn again in Beguilement when their lives were a little simpler.

  5. @Jen Yeah, I’m sure the romance is on purpose. It just wasn’t what I was expecting, I guess. 🙂

    @Sara K. A friend of mine pointed out the same thing about the book being split in two creating the sense of plotlessness that I complained of. I did read the front flap for Legacy and was pleased to see it looks like some more epic fantasy doings are afoot.

    Also, your comments on the build up and such reassure me that I’ll probably be more satisfied with future volumes. Thanks! 🙂


  1. […] When I reviewed the first installment in The Sharing Knife series, Beguilement, I lamented its lack of a more traditional fantasy novel plot. It’s not that it wasn’t good; it […]

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