Click here to read reviewer Helen Hancox's take on Legacy (The Sharing Knife #2).
Lois McMaster Bujold is best known for her Miles Vorkosigan science fiction adventures, but she has also transformed herself into quite the accomplished fantasy novelist. The Sharing Knife: Legacy is the second book in the “Sharing Knife” series, and it’s much better than Beguilement mainly because it’s much more rooted in fantasy than the previous book, which was much more a romance with fantasy trappings. With Legacy, Bujold reverses herself, which makes the two volumes wonderful back-to-back bookends.
Farmers and Lakewalkers generally don’t like each other, and they certainly don’t intermarry. So when Dag, a Lakewalker patroller who specializes in destroying evil Malices, marries farmer Fawn Bluefield, her family isn’t exactly thrilled. Now, however, Dag has to bring Fawn home to his people, and he may find it even worse. Fawn is willing to try and make herself useful to his people, but do prejudices run too deep? Their relationship is strained further when Dag must go out in the field again for an emergency Malice eruption, and both of them will learn even more about the mystical bond that they’ve created, defying all Lakewalker magical understanding. But will it be enough?
In my review of Beguilement, I enthused that everything we learned about Dag’s people was through Dag telling Fawn about them, and I thought we might find out a lot more firsthand in Legacy. I was definitely right about that, as Legacy immerses us in Lakewalker culture and magic. Bujold has created a wonderful society in the Lakewalkers, or at least one that’s enjoyable to read about. They’re a stubborn people, set in their ways and very reluctant to change their worldview after centuries of destroying Malices, protecting farmers from dangers they’re not even aware of, and a crushing guilt over the possible origins of the Malice threat.
Even Dag’s more open-minded family members (as opposed to his mother and brother, who are vehemently against the marriage) only grudgingly accept Fawn at first, though they do come to like her as they’re more exposed to her. We see the prejudice from regular members of Dag’s people as well as the more strident family members. Bujold illustrates this beautifully both in Fawn’s attempt to give Dag’s mother a gift she made as well as during the hearing to determine what should be done about the marriage. The scorn with which she is met makes the reader almost feel sorry for Fawn, whose wide-eyed innocence in the face of all this is touching.
At the beginning of Legacy, I was worried that we were going to get more of the same, as the couple makes their way to Dag’s village and we get more of the romantic trappings of which the first book was full. Yet once we get there, Bujold gets us involved in Lakewalker magic and politics, and we also see that the sex scene that happens right at the beginning of the book actually has some meaning in the magical nature of Dag’s powers as compared to his fellow Lakewalkers. He apparently has a gift that few Lakewalkers have, and this combined with the magical way he and Fawn bonded at their wedding ceremony gives some of his people’s “Makers” something to think about.
Thus begins a magical examination of the world Bujold has created. We get full explanations for how magic works (using the “Ground” that is within all people), how Lakewalkers have worked to destroy Malices for generations, and even more information on how the “Sharing Knives” work to kill them. If there was any doubt about Beguilement being a fantasy novel, there is none where Legacy is concerned. When Dag has to lead a patrol of Lakewalkers after a new Malice manifestation, we get to see them in action, and we also see the resulting Blight when the Malice has done its dirty work. Bujold’s imagination has always fascinated me, and continues to do so again with this creation.
Yet Legacy does not forget its roots even as it explores its world. Fawn and Dag’s relationship is still front and center; while we discover new magical things, the main thrust of the book is still Fawn’s struggle to be accepted by the Lakewalkers. There are times where Fawn is almost annoyingly innocent, but those times are few and far between. She’s also not the perfect specimen that she was in the first book, though she comes close a few times. She makes mistakes, she gets depressed, she allows some of the things Dag’s family says to her to foster doubts in Dag. While she is still perfect in Dag’s eyes, that’s to be expected for newlyweds.
Bujold’s characterization skills are still awe-inspiring (they were the main thing that saved the first book). Dag and Fawn are brilliantly done, with only a minor misstep or two. What stands out, however, is her portrayal of the other people in Dag’s life. Dar (Dag’s brother) and Dag’s mother are the “villains” of the whole thing, but even they are fairly three-dimensional, with reasons behind their feelings. Those reasons may not be acceptable to the reader, but they do make sense within the Lakewalker worldview. Even the Lakewalkers who accept Fawn do so through getting to know her rather than being pro-Fawn ciphers with no believable motivation.
In Legacy, Bujold has come back to her strengths, combining romance and fantasy in a believable fashion that doesn’t become cloying to the non-Romance reader. She has always excelled at this (as any Vorkosigan fan knows), and she comes through again. Combined with her beautiful prose and excellent characterization skills, this makes for a winner of a novel - and she even avoids the cliched ending as well.