The Lost Steersman by Rosemary Kirstein
Del Rey / Random House Trade: ISBN 0345462297 PubDate: 08/01/03
Review by Lucy Schmeidler
432 pgs. List price $15
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The Lost Steersman is the long-awaited sequel to Kirstein's The Steerswoman (1989) and The Outskirter's Secret (1992), recently reissued in one volume as The Steerswoman's Road. The new book continues the Steerswoman Rowen's delving into the secrets of her world, its geography, its peoples, its magic, etc. This is the work of the Steerswomen: acquiring and sharing knowledge. The book's title presents an immediate question: In what sense is the Steersman lost? In not knowing where he is? Being hidden, i.e. lost to others' awareness of his location? Being metaphorically "lost," confused, lost in his imaginings? But as Rowen looks into the mystery surrounding the Steersman, she also learns, and reveals to the reader, much more of the nature of her world. Perhaps in another book or two, the reader will know enough to understand where the whole series takes place; there's already plenty of evidence that it's not on Earth, though the people have a cultural history that goes back to our own, and the "magic" is actually some kind of advanced technology.
Kirstein treats us to some delightful and telling glimpses of human nature: When Rowan takes up temporary residence at the Annex in Alemeth, she is constantly compared to Mira, the previous Steerswoman at the Annex, and faulted for not being "like Mira," who did nothing useful either for the town or the Annex, but hung around the local tavern and acted witchy. And when Rowan first encounters Janus in Alemeth, he gives her a long story about how he's a coward; and, following her assumptions and values, she tries to find a way for him to deal with this cowardice and resume his old life.
This whole series works well as a mystery for the Steerswoman to solve and the reader to follow. The wanderings of the Steerswomen (and occasional men), each on her or his own, up and down the land, collecting information from everyone they meet, and then bringing it together to try to piece it into an understanding of the world they live in and the people who live there, strikes an immediate sympathy in the reader, who wants to know where the books are set and why things are as they are.