Review: ‘Beguilement: The Sharing Knife #1’ by Lois McMaster Bujold

Posted October 5, 2017 by PaulineMRoss in Review / 6 Comments

This is an awesome book. As a fantasy, the setting is brilliantly evoked, so that it feels utterly real, and the magic is suitably intriguing. But don’t be fooled: this is a romance through and through. Apart from a few high-action moments, which are mostly designed to throw our hero and heroine together, the plot is pure romance – the accidental meeting, the turning away because they’re on different sides of the cultural divide, the crisis that unites them, the nursing back to health, the long-drawn-out courtship and so on and so on.

The premise of this world is that there are two kinds of people. One kind has no magic. They’re farmers, living on settled plots of land, patriarchal and with a largely pre-industrial way of life. The other kind, the ones with magic, are called Lakewalkers (because they are constantly moving around the perimeter of the massive lake that defines their world). Their task is to rid the world of malices, immortal entities that suck the life out of humans, animals and plant life, growing stronger and stronger as they do so. The relationship between the two groups is edgy tolerance. The Lakewalkers think the farmers are simple-minded primitives, and the farmers, for their part, are very afraid of the magically-empowered Lakewalkers (as they should be) but they need them for healing and a few other benign purposes, as well as to clear out the malices.

Our representatives from these two groups are Fawn, the farmer, a girl kept ignorant by her upbringing and despised by her family, but driven by a burning curiosity about – well, everything, really. A trait which has got her into some difficulties as the book opens. Dag is the world-weary, seen-it-all Lakewalker, a man with a tragic past who’s something of a renegade even amongst his own people (yes, that old chestnut). Happenstance throws the two together, and when Fawn is drawn into Dag’s battle with a malice, their lives are irrevocably intertwined.

After that battle, the action fades into everyday survival and then travelling together. Inevitably, the two end up getting it on, and the sex is fairly graphic and frequent, so if that’s not your thing, avoid. I don’t mind a certain amount, but once it stops advancing the plot or enlightening the reader about the characters, it ceases to serve any useful purpose, and I felt that was the case here.

And then we came to the culmination of the book – a wedding. The lead-up and actual event went on for chapter after chapter and frankly, if I’d liked the characters less I’d have thrown the book at the wall at this point. Fortunately, I loved both Dag and Fawn. Dag is the kind of world-weary warrior type that I adore – very gentlemanly, and tender with his lover, but a total man’s man in battle. A little too perfect, perhaps, but it worked OK for me. Fawn is a delight, too, neither too shy nor too assertive. They make a good match.

With the clear setup that they will have to secure the approval of both her family and his fellow Lakewalkers to the marriage, the stage is set for two confrontations. But no. We get the visit to the farmers in full measure, and that over-lengthy wedding, but the book ends as the two set off to travel to the Lakewalkers’ camp. With the prospect of another lengthy series of confrontations and perhaps not much forward motion on the fantasy elements, I’m not mad keen to get book 2 in the series. Nevertheless, I loved almost everything about this book. Five stars.


6 responses to “Review: ‘Beguilement: The Sharing Knife #1’ by Lois McMaster Bujold

    • It’s a great read, although a touch too romancey for me. I prefer a better balance between the fantasy and romance elements, something you get just right. 🙂

      • aw, thanks 🙂 It’s a tough balance to strike. For me, ideally, if the fantasy plotline is what brings the couple together, and the relationship plays an important role in resolving the fantasy plot, that’s what seems to provide the best balance.

        • I can see how that would work. I’ve never quite managed to get the balance right, myself. I tend to get carried away with the action and then think: wait, haven’t I got a romance to tie up?? Not the best way to do it. 🙂

  1. I’ve been chewing through Bujold’s stuff heavily over this past year — though mostly the sci-fi. Just now started her other fantasy series, the World of the Five Gods stuff (Curse of Chalion is the first), which is pretty good so far. If this one is too romancey for you….heh, I dunno how I’ll handle it, but I think her writing is great, so I’ll be trying it regardless.

    Btw, if you ever feel like giving sci-fi a shot, I definitely recommend her Vorkosigan Saga. It’s got action and family saga and one particular romance that just grips me, even as it becomes just a background murmur during the action-filled middle of the series (which follows the son of the original couple). But anyway, Shards of Honor and Barrayar are the two to try, to see if you like them. God I love that couple.

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