The Language of Power

Rosemary Kirstein
Steerswoman, book 4

The Language of Power cover

Reading this, the conclusion I come to is that either I never actually read it – which is sad because I do have a copy – or I managed to completely forget the plot. The books tend to jump back and forth between the civilized Inner Lands and the more wild regions; this is a return to an Inner Land-focused plot. The author also likes to shift between sub-genres from volume to volume; this would be a caper novel.

Rowan has returned to Donner, where the books began, following the footsteps of the Steerswoman Latitia, who had an interest in the wizard Kieran, once the wizard dominating Donner. Unfortunately Latitia has been dead a long time, Kieran even longer and even townsfolk old enough to remember the wizard are thin on the ground. 

In short order Rowan and Bel are joined by an old friend, one who brings with them a unique perspective on the wizards and on magic.

It takes a bit of digging but Rowan is able to establish to her satisfaction that Something Dramatic Happened and whatever it was it caused Kieran to completely change from a murderous jerk – a wizard, in other words - to a kindly old man, and it may be behind Slado’s long campaign as well. What the event was is obscure but Kieran’s old house, now the wizard Jannik’s, may contain records indicating what the event was.

The wizard Jannik might like to present himself as the protector of the town but he is unlikely to allow a steerswoman, in particular the one he burned down a good chunk of the town to try to kill, access to his lair. This means he has to be lured away from his home long enough for Rowan and her allies to gain access. This may sound straight forward but it isn’t and the process by which this carried out provides even more clues about the past of this world, as does the actual foray into the building.

Not to derail the review early off but I am struck by how often “men lie” turns up in these books. Granted, part of this is because the wizards seem to favour men over women and the wizards are all about concealing information and blatant lies, but consider Slado, Fletcher, Janus and in this, Willam, all of whom are exposed as having kept some vital, perspective-shifting piece of information to themselves.

The wizards always were presented as somewhat less than entirely stirling; the sibling wizards Shammer and Dhree in the first book, for example, kept a fifteen-year-old “to serve both wizards’ pleasure,” the wizards are in the habit of getting lots of commoners killed in their mysterious squabbles and of course Slado can pass as a moustache-twirling villain but Jannik is even by wizard standards an unfortunate combination of mean and powerful.

As I said, I have no memory of this book at all – I thought I’d read it and the Language of Power referred to the Demonic written language when in fact it refers to something else entirely – and so I’d missed/forgotten the whole business about the Krue. I would ask what language they are using except that this passage

When Willam passed by after arranging his bedroll, he caught a glance of one page. He leaned forward and indicated. “That word is misspelled.” Under his correction shoot became chute.

Seems to indicate English or something derived from it. “Crew” does appear in dialogue:

“Noon-tide tomorrow, or the day after. Take that much time to gather up the rest of the crew; what with the delay, who knows where they’ve wandered to?”

So I am a bit baffled by this:

“I’m not Krue.”

“I don’t know that word . . .”

“It’s the name the wizards use for themselves. Not just the wizards that you see, that the common folk know about, but all of the wizard-people.”

Why would she hear that sound as “Krue”?

Again, Rowan lacks the right perspective to understand the significance of the clues she finds (and she knows this) but the reader should be able put together the use of the term Krue and

In the relevant area, one star; then that star gone, and four in its place; then one star again. “These three images, all on the same night?”

“Rowan,” Willam said, “these images were captured just seconds apart.”

If Kirstein sticks to her pattern, the next book should be set in some alien realm far from the Inner Lands… But I doubt another First Contact or Recontact book is looming because the fun of the series is watching Rowan work things out or nearly work things out. Note that William is not given a chance to sit down with Rowan to explain wizard magic in painsaking detail, only enough time to give her highly suggestive pointers.

Still, Slado is committing acts like using Routine Bioform Clearance on the Outskirters, and while he could have done that at any time in the past few decades, the fact that he is doing it now may be significant. For that matter, Keiran’s subsequent actions after his discovery really only make if he thought that discovery would have consequences in his lifetime and he was old when he learned what he learned. Maybe I am wrong and maybe Rowan is going to learn how Krue is really spelled in book five or six.

You can purchase the book here [This is a placeholder for the sample of the first chapter: the author’s website seems to be down just now] 

Rowan's WorldSo, about the map:

I am absurdly bothered by the detail of the Dolphin Stairs; you can see the far side of it so it’s not so huge the far side is hidden by the curvature of the planet but given how long it takes to get around the Inner Lands it’s clear my estimate from the description of several kilometers is wildly off. Any guesses as to how wide it is? And is that state of affairs sustainable given the width of the falls compared to the body of water draining through them?


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