irst published in 1989, The Steerswoman gained a small but devoted following. These poor people had to wait ELEVEN YEARS between books two and three, so I should probably quit whining. Published as ebooks in 2013, they seem to be gaining in popularity, as well they should.
Rowan is a steerswoman, a guild of navigators and seekers of knowledge:
If you ask, she must answer. A steerswoman's knowledge is shared with any who request it; no steerswoman may refuse a question, and no steerswoman may answer with anything but the truth.
And if she asks, you must answer. It is the other side of tradition's contract -- and if you refuse the question, or lie, no steerswoman will ever again answer even your most casual question.
And so, the steerswomen — always seeking, always investigating — have gathered more and more knowledge about the world they traveled, and they share that knowledge freely.
I saw that blurb and realized I had to read this book.
In her travels, Rowan discovers what appears to be a harmless, yet curious item, and her questions about it quickly lead to danger, not just for her, but for her whole order. She finds an interesting way to continue her quest in secret- hard to do when you are obligated to tell the truth- and finds a few friends to help her. Bel is a warrior from The Outskirts, a barren, savage land that surrounds the Inner Lands which is home to a kind of medieval civilization. Willam is a teenage boy who has discovered "magic," and is hoping to become a wizard's apprentice.
Unlike the Steerswomen, wizards do not share their knowledge, and are the source of much trouble in the Inner Lands. Their magic is easily recognized by us, but inexplicable to Rowan and her contemporaries.
These books are carefully written and well-thought-out. Rowan's lines of inquiry are fun to observe. There's no real scientific method; many problems are posed as either/or scenarios, with Rowan carefully and logically working her way to sometimes startling conclusions.
In the first book, the world itself is far less interesting than the characters. Rowan and Bel are particularly well-drawn and sympathetic in completely unique ways.