The Language of Power

by Rosemary Kirstein

Cover image

Series: Steerswomen #4
Publisher: Rosemary Kirstein
Copyright: 2004, 2014
Printing: April 2014
ISBN: 0-9913546-3-X
Format: Kindle
Pages: 400

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This is the fourth book in the Steerswomen series and definitely not the place to start. It's also a difficult series to review without spoilers, so I won't be able to provide too many details about the plot.

I will say that this is a reunion and a return of sorts to themes from earlier in the series, rather than a direct follow-up to the revelations at the end of The Lost Steersman. Rowan is back in the Inner Lands, continuing to investigate the affairs of wizards. In particular, she's digging into the past of the town of Donner, following up on the report of an earlier steerswoman and investigating a now-dead wizard who seemed to act far different from a typical wizard. And Bel is back at her side again, watching her back.

The first half of The Language of Power goes over somewhat familiar ground. Similar to both The Steerswoman and The Lost Steersman, Rowan is poking around in a city, getting to know unfamiliar people, being a steerswoman, and winning people over with her unique charm. But that's a theme I don't mind seeing repeated, since Rowan is one of my favorite protagonists from any series I've read. She's both ethical and respectful in a way that doesn't feel artificial or constructed. She thinks oddly and dives into sudden fascinations, and she does rely on the conventions for interacting with steerswomen, but the more time one spends with her, the better one likes her. This is true of both the reader and the town inhabitants, and Kirstein is brilliant at writing the gradual getting-to-know and growing-respect process.

Events in The Language of Power slowly build up to another confrontation with wizards, and this one is full of major revelations about the world. Some of the ambiguity of earlier books is firmly resolved, we find out a lot more about how wizards view themselves and their abilities, and tons of new questions are raised. It's not a conclusion in any way, which is a bit unfortunate given that the next book is still being written (twelve years later, although thankfully it's being actively worked on as I write this). But we get the first clear look at the substratum of the world that Kirstein is building in this series.

This sounds satisfying, and to some extent it is, but any regular SFF reader will have guessed at many of the revelations here. I was pretty sure the world was following one of two possible patterns partway through the second book, certain which it was during the third book, and was nodding right along with the revelations in this book. I'm trying to avoid spoilers, but if you read a lot of SFF, chances are you've read about something akin to this background before. That takes a bit of the thrill out of the revelations, unfortunately.

What adds the excitement and thrill back in are Rowan's reactions. It's very difficult to write a character who comes from an entirely different perspective than either the author or the reader, and Kirstein does an amazing job. Not perfect, quite, at least for me: there were a few points where I thought Rowan was more baffled or more upset than it felt like she should have been. But they are few and far between, and it's quite possible my expectations are the ones that wouldn't ring true if written into the story. It's just such a delight to see Rowan analyzing the world, incorporating new revelations into her growing world model, and figuring out how to take the most moral action at any point. I would happily read another dozen books of this (but I wish they were all already written).

If you've read the previous three books, definitely pick up this one as well. For me, it narrowly misses being the best book of the series (I think that's still The Outskirter's Secret because of the difficulty of the perspective change Kirstein pulls off), but it's a close competition. And the final reveal at the very end of this book points to upcoming adventures that I can hardly wait to read.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2016-05-05

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