RogerBW's Blog

The Outskirter's Secret, Rosemary Kirstein 27 February 2022

1992 fantasy/SF, second of its series. Rowan the Steerswoman and Bel the barbarian travel into the Outskirts to try to find the source of the mysterious blue jewels…

The first volume was a quest, with some consideration of the society of the Inner Lands. This one's much more explicitly a look at the society of the Outskirters, and their customs, and their divisions, while Rowan and Bel travel with them. These are no generic primitives, "in tune with the land" and so on: they know the land is their enemy, and everything about their marginal existence is guided by that principle, from grazing patterns to funeral customs. Why? Well, that's another question.

There's less divergence from the primary thrust of the story, though: do those jewels really come from a fallen Guidestar? What are those fixed lights in the sky for, anyway? If it fell, was it deliberate or an accident? Why would someone want it to fall?

Most of these questions aren't answered. This is not any sort of conclusion. (It was more than ten years before the next two volumes came out, and Kirstein is still working on book 5. This is frustrating.) Really there's just one big puzzle that's solved here, why the Outskirters live the way they do, and while it's lovely to work through the solution I'd have liked more.

But it's still very good stuff, with wonderfully evocative writing – particular the description of a near-miss by a tornado, as perceived by people who have never met freight trains and so have no basis for comparison.

(This book and the earlier The Steerswoman are now more easily found in the 2003 combined edition The Steerswoman's Road.)

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Previous in series: Steerswoman, The | Series: The Steerswoman | Next in series: Lost Steersman, The

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