From the front flap:
Young Fawn Bluefield and soldier-sorcerer Dag Redwing Hickory have survived magical dangers and found, in each other, love and loyalty. But even their strength and passion cannot overcome the bigotry of their own kin, and so, leaving behind all they have known, the couple sets off to find fresh solutions to the perilous split between their peoples.
But they will not journey alone, as they acquire comrades along the way. As the ill-assorted crew is tested and tempered on its journey to where great rivers join, Fawn and Dag will discover surprising new abilities both Lakewalker and farmer, a growing understanding of the bonds between themselves and their kinfolk, and a new world of hazards both human and uncanny.
After one book taking place primarily in the farmer world and another that focuses on Lakewalker life, Passage, the third book in The Sharing Knife series, finds Dag and Fawn working to bring those two worlds closer together. Having witnessed the loss of life caused by farmers’ ignorance of the warning signs of a forming Malice, and not willing to stay at a camp at which the validity of his marriage is questioned, Dag gives up his patroller life and decides to become an ambassador of sorts, explaining some of the most fundamental Lakewalker secrets to what farmers as will listen.
After a brief stay with Fawn’s family, Dag and Fawn (along with her brother, Whit) hit the road, visiting a few towns and eventually booking passage on the Fetch, a flatboat headed downriver to the sea. From there, they encounter a variety of (mostly) likable characters, like Berry (boss of the Fetch), Remo and Barr (a pair of disgraced young patrollers), and a bevy of other boatmen. Dag performs several impressive feats of healing, works out some finer details of groundwork, ponders some troubling questions, and makes a lot of rather repetitive speeches. The action picks up a little when Berry’s search for her missing father, brother, and fiancé yields some unexpected results, and Dag is ultimately forced to question whether farmers and Lakewalkers aren’t better off living separate lives after all.
Although parts of Passage are quite slow—like the speeches and the many discussions on the ethics of Dag’s developing abilities—it’s still my favorite of the series thus far, a factor I attribute mostly to the influx of new people. Suddenly, a series that has been almost exclusively about two characters has developed an ensemble cast, and I find it to be a big improvement. My favorite of the new characters is actually not so new—Fawn’s brother Whit has been around before, but really becomes a new person due to the things he sees and experiences on this journey.
Whit’s growth also serves a handy example for one of my favorite things about the series: women’s roles. Bujold manages to show women in positions of power—boat captains, patrol leaders—about as often as women living more domestic lives without making a judgment about which has more value. Whit, having grown up on a farm, is used to men being in charge, and early on accuses Fawn of being “just a girl.” Dag expertly turns this around to talk about all of the brave and valiant things his first wife, Kauneo, accomplished when she was “just a girl.” After witnessing Fawn’s practical cleverness on several occasions, and having his notions of gender roles challenged by Berry, with whom he falls in love, Whit comes to value Fawn’s input in a way that the rest of her family does not.
Despite enjoying Passage quite a bit, I find I have some trepidations about Horizon, the fourth and final volume in the series. I do like Dag and Fawn, but they weren’t the main attraction for me this time. I hope Berry, Whit, Remo, and Barr have significant roles in Horizon else I shall be disappointed.
Additional reviews of The Sharing Knife: Passage can be found at Triple Take.