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Beguilement: The Sharing Knife Volume One    by Lois McMaster Bujold order for
by Lois McMaster Bujold
Order:  USA  Can
Eos, 2006 (2006)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Lois McMaster Bujold is one of my favorite writers of speculative fiction, both for her brilliant SF Vorkosigan series and her equally strong foray into fantasy with The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls. In this first in her new Sharing Knife series, Bujold steps away from the dark mood of those two excellent works to return to something simpler, more lighthearted, and closer to the romantic adventure of The Spirit Ring.

It's not all sweetness and light though, by any means. One community in Bujold's world, the Lakewalkers, fight an endless battle against great evil that manifests periodically as a malice or blight bogle. A malice makes animals into human-shaped slaves (mud-men) to do its dirty work, collecting captives to feed its growth. The main action begins when one-handed Dag, a seasoned Lakewalker patroller, leaves his fellows after a fight with bandits, to follow a pair (a human enslaved by a malice and a mud-man) to the latter's maker. Before Dag catches up with them, they kidnap pregnant young farmgirl, Fawn Bluefield, who has run away from home and is walking to the city of Glassforge, where she hopes to find work.

Dag rescues Fawn and leaves her to rest in an abandoned farmhouse while he looks for the malice. When he finds it, Fawn is there too, taken again by mud-men. Overpowered, Dag tosses his sharing knives (made from human bone to share death with an immortal malice) to Fawn, who bravely succeeds in destroying the evil. But in the process, she primes Dag's second sharing knife, in a manner that is new - and puzzling - to him, and that links them together. Both badly injured, they struggle back to the farmhouse. There, the sexually naive (despite her pregnancy) farmgirl explains to the older patroller why she left home, and he shares some of his own history and that of his folk.

Aside from the action that starts the series off with a bang, this episode concerns itself with a drawn-out, gentle romance between the rather jaded Dag (who lost his beloved wife to a malice long before) and Fawn, whose innate strength of character has long been suppressed by her family's low opinion of her. They travel to Glassforge together, and then to the Bluefields' farm, to assure Fawn's folk of her safety. Beguilement ends as Fawn takes another 'leap into the utterly unknown', this time in good company. Though this episode was light on action, I enjoyed the context and characters, and plan to follow the series' development.

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