Lois McMaster Bujold, The Sharing Knife
vol. 1: Beguilement
reviewed by Danielle L. Parker
Publisher: Harper Voyager 2006
Length: Hardcover, 368 pp.
One of the problems with romance stories is that at least four persons are always in bed: you, the reader; the protagonist and her or his love interest; and last but not least, the author.
When the author’s fantasies push the reader’s buttons, too, you have a runaway bestseller. When they don’t mesh, you have a highly uncomfortable reader.
Though purportedly fantasy, The Sharing Knife is romance, starring a tiny, wiggly, squirmy, giggly heroine, too naive and innocent to find her own button... Yeah, that is exactly what I mean. Fawn is spunky and innocent; she propositions a handsome jerk in an idiot fit of I Waanabe a Grown-up Woman, and ends up pregnant and footloose.
Out on the road to escape both cad Dad and explanations of her escapade, she stops at a farm to refresh herself. A party of monster hunters, the Lakewalkers, have stopped to restock as well.
Lakewalkers kill malices, which are sorcerous monsters who blight the land and enslave unfortunate locals. The malices must be killed by a special magic knife, the Sharing Knife, which only the Lakewalkers make.
Fawn is soon kidnapped by slaves of the malice. Dag, a Lakewalker, attempts to save her. But Fawn is the one who actually plunges the magic knife into the monster. The knives are primed by a life, and Fawn’s unborn baby provides the primer.
Now Fawn and Dag jointly own the magic knife. An awkward situation indeed for their kinfolk on both sides.
The rest of the book is filled with the difficulties of the star-crossed lovers. Fawn’s brothers try to pry loose the would-be groom with an ambush. Dag’s family prove even nastier, and much more successful. Though Fawn and Dag save the day again, Dag’s snooty family rob and banish the couple.
Weirdly, neither lover feels hate over these cruel actions. The lack of real, believable human responses hamstrings the book. Dag, sadly, reminded me of the Mega-Star bouncing on the couch as he loudly proclaimed his infatuation. There’s that same sort of please-don’t-inflict-this-awfulness-on-me! feeling engendered by the book. I got in bed with Bujold, and all I could think was how loud I could play screaming Joan Jett or Pat Benatar, afterwards, to drown out the memory.
Bujold is a fine fantasy writer whose usually succeeds in her romance sub-plots. I suspect the aim was off on this one simply because she wrote the romance front-and-center.
The book was rocky elsewhere, too. The monster, the malice, has great fright potential but is only glimpsed. The book bogs down in complicated explanations of how the magic works. Fawn saves Dag again, but by then, it wasn’t worth trying to wade through the lengthy explanations to understand exactly how.
Bujold is too good a writer to be down for long. I suspect the other books in this series pick up. I’d simply send her to the blackboard for this one. Fifty iterations of “I Will Not Write Twee,” thank you. And then back to your usual stellar self, Lois. Please!!!
Copyright © 2015 by Danielle L. Parker