The Sharing Knife Book Four: Horizon, by Lois McMaster Bujold

>> Friday, April 13, 2012

TITLE: The Sharing Knife Book Four: Horizon
AUTHOR: Lois McMaster Bujold

PAGES: 448

SETTING: Fantasy world
TYPE: Fantasy
SERIES: 4th and last in the Sharing Knife quartet

The concluding volume in the epic fantasy saga from multiple Hugo Award-winning author Lois McMaster Bujold

A Lakewalker entrusted with protecting the populace from terrifying remnants of ancient magic, Dag Redwing Hickory never expected to fall in love with farmer girl Fawn Bluefield. When they joined in marriage, defying their kin, they bridged the perilous split between their peoples. Now Dag’s extraordinary maker abilities have grown—along with his fears about who and what he is becoming, and his frustration with the disdain in which Lakewalker soldier-sorcerers hold their farmer neighbors.

Fawn and Dag’s world is changing, and the traditional Lakewalker practices cannot continue to hold every malice at bay. At the end of their long journey home, the pair must answer the question they’ve grappled with for so long: When the old traditions fail disastrously, can their untried new ways stand against their world’s deadliest foe?
First-off, I need to say this is not one to start with in the series. It's the last in the Sharing Knife quartet, and it builds on all the many developments that have happened in the three earlier books. I've read all three, but since it's been a while since I did so, there were a couple of points where I was slightly confused, as I couldn't completely remember the details. If you hadn't read those at all, you'd probably be completely lost.

The first two books were all about the relationship between Dag and Fawn. In the third one, Passage, the focus changed from the union of one Lakewalker and one Farmer to how to do the same for the Lakewalker and Farmer societies. Our two protagonists came to the conclusion that harmony and understanding were needed, if a catastrophe was to be averted, since more and more Farmer settlements were moving closer to the areas were Malices were frequent.

In Horizon, Dag and Fawn are basically looking to decide what they'll do for the rest of their lives. In the previous book Dag discovered and started exploring his "making" powers, and he's keen to find out exactly what he can do, and decide whether this is the path he wants to take.

For that purpose, he decides to apprentice himself to an expert maker, and he and Fawn are grudgingly accepted into the Lakewalker camp where the man is based. But Lakwalker rules are strict about not treating Farmers. This is for a good reason, but it's one that Dag has found a way around. Still, the camp leaders will not see reason, and before long, Dag is leading a diverse bunch of people, a mix of Lakewalkers and Farmers, on the way North. And obviously, trouble finds them there.

Bujold has a lovely voice, and she's a storyteller I trust completely. Whenever I start one of her books, I just give myself up and become immersed in her story, letting her take me where she might.

The story she tells here is that of an idealistic man, ready to take on the world and make it a better place, leading by example. Fawn is still there, but more to steady Dag and be the core of the book than to move things along. Much as I've liked Fawn in earlier books, I didn't mind too much, because Dag is such a fascinating character himself.

Something I really like about the Sharing Knife series (well, about everything I've read by Bujold, really) is the intrincate, fresh world-building. The author has done most of the groundwork of setting things up in the earlier books in the series, but that doesn't mean there's not plenty to find out here. This is especially the case for with Dag's abilities, since Lakewalkers have basically completely ignored anything to do with Farmers, so there's a lot to learn there. It was also really interesting to see the world of Southern Lakewalkers, who live in much closer proximity to Farmers than those we've met before, Dag's family, who live in the North. They're both more familiar with Farmer ways and more rigid, as they feel the need to uphold their separate identity (not to mention, the Lakewalker identity has a lot to do with their hunt for Malices, but there really aren't many of them in the South, so they have to make an effort to hold up tradition).

The book meanders along, in an almost episodic fashion, collecting different characters and their stories. But this is the case only for the first two thirds of the book. Then we come to the really fantastic conclusion. If you thought the Malices we've encountered in previous books were bad, well, you ain't seen nothing yet! It was truly terrifying, and there was a very real sense of despair and hopelessness at the enormity of the enemy to be confronted. The way it's resolved was truly mind-blowing, and it set the scene beautifully for a hopeful ending, one where it's clear Dag and Fawn's objectives will, slowly but surely, be realised.

A really good ending to a really good series.



msaggie,  13 April 2012 at 11:06  

Rosario, I am so glad you finally read Horizon, and that you enjoyed it! I read it when it first came out, and now feel a re-read coming on! I remember feeling the despair of the protagonists as well at confronting the greatest malice in this series. And I loved the ending, but I do wish that LMB would write more books in this world, because I would certainly buy and read more books about Dag and Fawn and their children. Thanks for the lovely review!

Li 13 April 2012 at 20:00  

I remember reading the first book in this series and not being very impressed, because secretly I wanted a Vorkosigan book... And then I read the second quite a while later and became totally hooked.

This series is so different from her other books but equally good - and I completely agree with your statement about Bujold being a storyteller you trust. She just does good writing.

Rosario 13 April 2012 at 20:52  

msaggie: I felt so sad there were no more stories set in this world when I finished, that I think a reread might be in order, as well. Here's hoping she might return to it!

Li: LOL! Can you believe, much as I love LMB, I haven't been able to get into the Vorkosigan books. I read Shards of Honor and then the first Miles book, but though I liked both quite a lot, I never did go on. Probably will, at some point!

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