Sunday, August 27, 2006

Review: Beguilement: Book One of the Sharing Knife

Hugo Award winner Lois McMaster Bujold returns with the first volume of her newest series, The Sharing Knife. Her previous work, from The Curse of Chalion (Eos, 2001) all the way to The Hallowed Hunt (Eos, 2005), walks a fine line between fast-paced action of quest fantasy and character driven stories of romance. Here Bujold pushes the fantasy more to the background, making the developing romance between the main characters of Dag and Fawn the primary story.

This is not to say the novel is without action. The two lovers meet when the wandering adventurer Dag rescues the farmer’s daughter Fawn from a Malice, a powerful demonic creature capable of bending the wills and flesh of others to its own. Dag, part of a tribe called Lakewalkers, uses special knives enchanted upon the death of its owner to destroy the demon. During her capture, Fawn’s unborn child is killed somehow enchanting one of Dag’s blades. This baffling mystery links the two together as they try to find out the secrets of the new special Sharing Knife.
While there is other action and drama throughout the story, good or bad the end result is that the events seem built for the singular purpose to push Dag and Fawn together. This is a big shift for fans of her other books, who will expect layers of political intrigue and thrilling action alongside the love story. This almost total focus on the love story places the whole weight of the novel on Bujold’s ability to make the two lovers compelling characters. The perspective shifts between both Fawn and Dag, allowing us to see from both sides how their relationship builds and grows. While the basic plot does venture into bodice-ripper territory, the book is saved from this by a strong command of language and an ability to deliver powerful emotions in a believable manner.
A side issue seems to be the (very) light feminist touch to the tale. Fawn is an 18 year old runaway, a young unmarried woman who left home when faced with an embarrassing, unwanted pregnancy. While she needed Dag to save her from both the Malice and the trap of her former life, there are hints that she’s becoming a stronger, more independent spirit. Back at home she had no control over her own life, but with Dag she opens up and shows sighs of real intelligence, determination and character. While I doubt a full series like this can be carried based solely around a romantic relationship, I do have hopes that increasing the strength and power of Fawn’s character can. But we won’t know for sure which way Bujold will go until the next volume.


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