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The Lost Steersman    by Rosemary Kirstein order for
Lost Steersman
by Rosemary Kirstein
Order:  USA  Can
Del Rey, 2003 (2003)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I opened this book with great anticipation, after being enthralled by The Steerswoman's Road. By now it is clear that, though most of them live in ignorance of their situation, humans have bioengineered a gradually expanding settlement on an alien world. Outskirter tribes live in the dangerous boundary regions, while in the Inner Lands, an order of Steerswomen make maps and develop a knowledge base. Wizards have advanced powers, whose source is not understood.

Our heroine, steerswoman Rowan has discovered that a Guidestar (presumably some sort of satellite) has fallen, and that 'Routine Bioform Clearance', intended for use in expanding human territory, has been aimed at Outskirter humans. She believes the wizard Slado is behind a situation that could lead to a disastrous war between Outskirters and the settled peoples. Leaving her friend Bel to rally the tribes, Rowan has made her way to her Order's Annex archives in Alemeth, seeking information from its logbooks.

She finds the archives in disorder, their old (now deceased) steerswoman keeper Mira having had more interest in the town tavern than in her responsibilities. In the town, Rowan encounters old friend and fellow student Janus, a Steersman who inexplicably resigned from the Order and disappeared. He is based in Alemeth, though he takes frequent mysterious ocean trips. Rowan accepts Janus's explanation of why he left, and renews their friendship. One of Mira's helpers, Steffie, also becomes a friend and develops an interest in becoming a Steersman.

Then come acid-spraying demons, whose escalating attacks kill and main townsfolk. Janus reacts strangely, while Rowan assists the militia, dissects demon corpses, and struggles to find the source of these attacks and to understand why Alemeth is the target. Helped by one-legged steerswoman Zenna and Steffie, Rowan embarks on a quest, sword and talisman in hand, to a 'place where ships vanish'. Hoping to find Slado's stronghold, Rowan instead gains an entirely new perspective on her world and its inhabitants, almost at the cost of her life.

The Lost Steersman is just as good as the first two books in this brilliant series, and that's saying something! Though I had hoped for definitive answers to the puzzles of Kirstein's world, she ekes out its secrets slowly, and readers will have to impatiently await the next adventure.

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