Book Review

More Men Reading Romance: Scrinnameless discovers Bujold

Title: The Sharing Knife
Author: Lois McMaster Bujold

A few weeks ago, Scrinnameless sent me word of a wonderful used bookstore in Mobile, Alabama.

Turns out Scrin is a dude – and he later wrote to me:

I think I’ve nerved myself enough to submit myself to the Will of the Bitchery. Who can suggest some good sf or fantasy romance to start me off on?

As for about myself… I’m a 22-year-old college student in Mobile, Alabama, pursuing a degree in geology. I play video games. I read, naturally, all over science fiction and fantasy, along with odds and ends here and there. I have a thing for snarky dialogue and commentary (which is how I found SBTB in the first place).

So, yes, O Masters of Romance, teach me!

Oh yeah, like I’m going to be able to resist bringing a 22 year old rock-student into the massive awesome that is romance.

I asked Scrin for more details about what he likes to read, and here was his reply:

 

Favorite authors: Terry Pratchett, Alan Dean Foster, Timothy Zahn, David Eddings, R.A. Salvatore, Lilian Jackson Braun, Anne George.

Titles I’ll hang onto forever: I will hurt someone over my Discworld books. But I also try to replace copies of the early Eddings when they start to wear out. Also, I intend to hang onto the Anne George Southern Sisters stuff. Oh, and my copies of Trigun (a manga, if you’re unfamiliar with it).

Why Geology: I was wiping out my core requirements to put off deciding what I wanted to do. Then I took Geology 111 (the basic course), and, well, the Uncyclopedia article on Geologists describes it pretty close.

Book CoverMy reply: “There are three words you need to know, and those words are “Lois McMaster Bujold.”

O RLY? replied Scrin. YES RLY, I said. A few days later, I heard back: “I Has a Bujold!”

First lesson, O Bitchery: never let a geologist near your map of the inside cover of your book. Herein is Scrin’s first account of his reading (there’s more, so hang on to your seats. And your rock hammers).


It might be unusual to start with a critique of the obligatory fantasy map inside the cover the cover, but I am a geology student. Landforms are interesting to me, and this might be good practice.

Right off the bat, I notice the Dead Lake at the north side of the map and the Limestone Country at the south.  There are also several rivers, but they’re flowing south. Nothing wrong with that, except they’re all flowing down to drain the Limestone country (which tells me that this place used to be covered by the sea). A lake is pretty often a low point to the surrounding terrain, so it stands to reason that at least some of the rivers would be flowing down to it.

But wait, it’s the Dead Lake. Maybe it’s dry…Oh, wait. It’s right by what appears to be Bog-Ague Country. Sounds nasty. And boggy. And it’s right by the lake. It’s probably a gradual slope down to the lake, hovering right around the water table. So, nope, the lake doesn’t appear to be dry, and doesn’t have rivers flowing through it.

Huh. Maybe the land around there will be described at some point. I’ll reserve judgment on the map until then.

The scale of the map is measures out fifty miles, and isn’t far at all on the map. It seems the map is 17.6 cm, and fifty miles is 1.7…. Ah, heck, call it 500 miles from east to west. It’s a pretty fair piece of ground.

This should be fun, don’t you think? So behold, we commence: Scrin’s Read-a-log of The Sharing Knife: Beguilement:

Chapter 1

I am starting the actual book. I grabbed it since it’s volume one, and I’d be sure of it not starting in the middle of something.

The main female seems to be a woman named Fawn. She’s a farmgirl who’s 20 years old and, she thinks to herself, a widow. She’s also short.

The female lead seems to be a rangery nomad-type named Dag. Actually, I like that name. Short, hard, and easy to say. Well-suited for shouting. I wish I could say I like the name ‘Fawn,’ but I grew up deer hunting. My ears hear ‘Fawn,’ and my brain substitutes ‘yearling.’ Anyway, they set up quite a bit in this chapter.

I just finished chapter one, and I know that Fawn’s had man trouble. I know the Lakewalkers are a nomadic rangery-type of people who dedicate themselves to fighting something called a malice. I get the strong impression that malices affect an entire area, and also creates subordinate creatures. They also seem to be connected to the blight,  a condition which makes a sizeable area to the west uninhabitable. Anyway, Dag’s one of them, and is apparently an old hand at fighting these things…I apologize for the ‘hand’ pun. See, Dag’s missing his left hand. Gee, I wonder what did that…

My immediate guess about the Lakewalkers being a matriarchal culture was correct.

Anyway, not a bad beginning. It starts off with a mundane kind of abnormal situation, and then it moves quite smoothly into setting up the supernatural. I especially liked how the Lakewalkers have a kind of life-sense (as found out from a bit that’s written in Dag’s point of view) which let them know when living things are around and, apparently, if there’s a malice affecting the area. As extra senses go, it’s unusual. Much cooler than boring old telepathy.

Chapter 2 Preliminary

I’m going to try to avoid this, as a rule, but I’m going to record an impression immediately after I read what caused it.

It starts off from Dag’s point of view. His partner catches him as he slips. Dag rebukes him. The partner, Saun, defensively mentions he’s heard Dag’s overprotective of any woman he’s partnered with—not romantic partner, but an assigned partner. For this reason, women aren’t assigned to be his partner; possibly he worries about them so much he puts himself—and by extension them, too—in danger. Given the insight into his mind last chapter, I’d say he’s protective of women in general. He probably lost a partner; possibly at the same time he lost his hand. He may have even been romantically involved with her. Saun’s apparently new at this. He’s nervous. Dag isn’t sure how Saun’ll do.

Bet you a dollar that Saun dies from his own mistake.

Chapter 2 main

…Well, Saun doesn’t die. He does, however, make a dumb mistake and gets a hammer right in the chest. The only thing that stops him from dying is Dag. Ah. This buddy system makes a lot of sense now.

Anyway, Dag arrives in the nick of time to prevent Fawn from being raped. Also, he was not too late. This seems to be important. Anyway, the guy about to rape Fawn gets shot, quite factually, in the ass, and then the monster—which seems to be a corrupted man—get away, Dag figures he can track it. Except, whoops, turns out Mr. Rapist is unschooled in anatomy any more sophisticated than where Slot A is and how Tab B fits into it; presumably, he also knows where to hit someone so they’ll die. He pulls out the arrow, tears an artery, and bleeds to death before Dag can come patch him up and take him prisoner.

Also, turns out that Fawn has a very strong life-force. This seems to be what triggered her getting captured, and it’s also how Dag recognized her.

I feel this will be important later on.

Chapter 3

Oh, bottomless joy! Stars and garters!

Remember how I said I liked Dag’s name? Turns out, the name is short and easy to shout by design.

“I have a tent name, a camp name, and a hinterland name, but Dag is easier to shout.” The smile glimmered by again. “Short is better in the field. Dag, duck! See? If it were any longer, it might be too late.”

First an author who knows something about fighting (the fight scenes earlier weren’t bad at all), and now, the Lakewalkers intentionally make their everyday names short and easy to shout as a survival aid? Hell yes.

Anyway, the plot thickens. Fawn’s pregnant, which is apparently the source of her man troubles. The father’s evidently a dullard. Dag says it’s a girl, and it happens to be why her life-force is so strong—so strong that it’s like a beacon to mud men.

Dag’s awesome. Fawn’s assessment of him is that he lives ‘inside his own head.’ And he totally he gives that impression. He says what he’s thinking at the moment, and can correct himself in mid-sentence as his brain catches up to his mouth. Dag’s speech patterns are also telegraphic, as if he cuts out excess words and goes right to what he wants to say, as he thinks it. My mental ear is imagining him having a pretty quick delivery when he’s speaking.

Anyway, at the end of the third chapter and this first part of a liveblog, Dag’s bone-tired and still out scouting because he’s got too much to do and Fawn’s about to be attacked by more mud-men.

On a more general level, I’m enjoying myself. The characters—the handful introduced so far—are pretty cool, and Dag surpasses cool and goes into awesome. The writing’s flowing pretty well, and doesn’t get in the way of what the author wants the reader to know.


Stay tuned for more of Scrin’s read-a-log, and feel free to make suggestions as to what he should read. I started with Bujold because it seems to me, from my romance-deep and fantasy-not-as-much reading history, that her writing would be one of the best bridges into RomanceLandia for a curious reader.

Another male curious about the romance? WIN!

 

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Brianna says:

    Good read-a-long, and awesome series to start him on. Another good series (if she ever finishes the final book!) is Melanie Rawn’s ‘Exiles’ trilogy.

  2. 2
    Kat says:

    I really need to try this book. Friends keep recommending it (but I always forget the name when I’m actually in a bookstore). One thing, though. Dag is not exactly a heroic name for Aussies.

    I’d recommend Patricia McKillip. Anything other than Something Rich and Strange. Maybe the Riddlemaster of Hed. She’s really more fantasy with a dash of romance (and not always as HEA as one might hope) but her writing is very female-centric. Maybe CL Wilson’s Tairen Soul series from book 3 (the first two might just be too romancey).

    As for sf, Grimspace by Ann Aguirre.

  3. 3
    Rose says:

    Scrin’s doing a great job and a romance reading geologist is totally someone I want to meet. But where’s your other guest reviewer? Surely Patrick hasn’t given up on LoS?!

  4. 4
    KatherineB says:

    If he wants more SF/Romance, I’d go for Grimspace. Had enough balance of the two.

    Trying to think of romances in the vein of Terry Pratchett…tough! Rampant comedy and plays on words… the comedy isn’t what’s fitting in the Romance genre part.  Maybe something will come to me if I look at my shelves…

    Perhaps Julie Czenerda’s work? All except the Shifters series have elemts of SF and a touch of Romance. For geology thrown in the mix, I’d go for the Species Imperative Trilogy. The descriptions of the Chasm and the Dryn homeworld and how they evolved (I think it’s in book three) could work for him. Okay, hotter on the science and just a touch of romance, but she does a HEA with her guy at the end of the third book. And I’ve always found her heroines to be quirky and very humorous. Go, bookshelves!

  5. 5
    Tae says:

    ah a man after my own heart
    Eddings is one of my favorites ever and it has quite a few romances
    Garion & X’nedra
    Hettar & Adara
    Tiaba & Relg
    Pol & Durnick
    Silk & the Queen of Drasnia
    Mandorallen & his foster father’s wife (i’m just not remembering all the names here)
    I just love the sweetness of all the romances in Eddings, my favorite was actually Vela and Beldin in the Malloreon series.

    Anyways… I’d also suggest he read LMB’s Miles books and definitely the Chalion series.  She’s the only fantasy author with the light humor that I find in Eddings with romantic elements and not so much pure romance.

    Books that I found highly romantic that were fantasy also include:
    Seven Waters Trilogy by Juliet Marillier
    Kushiel series – Jacqueline Carey
    Patricia Briggs – any of her older fantasy, but also her newer UF as well
    Catherine Asaro – her SF Skolia series is all romance (every book has one couple pair up), prefer this to her fantasy books except the first Luna book she wrote which was very good
    Anne McCaffrey has a lot of romance in her books especially the Ship/Brawn series (my favorite being The Ship who Searched and The Ship who Sang) or the Talent Series or the Freedom’s Landing series or the Killishandra series, and only some in the Pern set
    ugh..I wish I could think of some more but I can’t at this time

  6. 6
    JoanneL says:

    Dude! Dragon shifters!

    Oh send him to G.A. Aiken (Shelly Laurenston) and her Dragon Kin series starting with DRAGON ACTUALLY. Fantasy battles and hilarious dialogue along with the requisite love & sexy fun!

  7. 7
    HUnLTD says:

    Hey, Pterry’s Going Postal is a romance! With golems! And a protagonist (anti-hero, really) who finds love with a chain-smoking heroine, set against a background of civil service and businesses going Wall Street kablooie! Excitement! With five exclamation marks!!!!!

    Err, anyway. I do think Pratchett’s writing has moved a long way from pun-filled slapstick parody to a less laugh-out-loud social commentary in quirky fantasy wrappings. What makes his writing funny nowadays isn’t what made the first Rincewind books a hoot: the Discworld, as fantastical as it is, is much closer to the real world now than it used to be, and the humour comes from people behaving like, well, people, not only from reused fantasy tropes. (Although these, too, play a part.)

    And I think our the geo romance virgin should read Diana Wynne Jones’s Deep Secret. OK, I think everyone with an appreciation for fantasy should read it.

  8. 8
    Cat Marsters says:

    HUnLTD wrote:

    Hey, Pterry’s Going Postal is a romance! With golems!

    Yes, indeedy, and I just lent it to a male friend, and he is enjoying it!  And incidentally, Sky1 are apparently making a TV movie of it (they did Hogfather, which was great, and The Colour of Magic, which was less good).

    My recommendation for Scrin is Linnea Sinclair for sci-fi romance.  And although I’ve only read one book of Sara Douglass‘s (Threshold) I’m on the lookout for more, since her fantasy world was so minutely and vividly imagined.

    I have a few sci-fi and fantasy titles in my backlist, and they’re definitely full of snark, but they’re also firmly in the erotic camp, and I don’t know if that’s what Scrin’s looking for…?

  9. 9
    Joy says:

    I think he may like Shana Abe’s Dragon Series: The Smoke Thief, The Dream Thief, Queen of Dragons.

    It’s heavy in fantasy – and gemstones.

  10. 10
    Joanna Waugh says:

    (chuckling about Scrin’s critique of the map)
    We Regency authors are subjected all the time to that level of scrutiny by our readers.

  11. 11
    Silver James says:

    I’d have to recommend Jayne Castle’s Ghosthunter series.  And the first book in a new series by Maureen Child, BEDEVILED. Faeries, imps, and lots of lol.

  12. 12
    P.N. Elrod says:

    I’m a shameless Bujold fangirl, and haven’t yet started Sharing Knife, so I will retire from this blog for the time being to avoid spoilers.

    For my own part I would really hate to have anyone do a chapter by chapter blog of any of my works, simply because of the spoiler issue. Lois is one of the really great writers, always taking a new path, and I prefer to let her guide me along, not another reader.

    That said, this fellow needs to get himself hooked on her Hugo-winning Miles Vorkosigan series. I read those over and over again and still do!

  13. 13
    Cathy says:

    I’d like to second Brianna’s Melanie Rawn rec, but instead suggest Rawn’s Dragon Prince/Dragon Star trilogies (6 books total).  There are some romance elements, but they’re secondary to the political plotlines.

    The Exiles books are excellent, but as Brianna mentioned, the third book isn’t written yet.

  14. 14
    Sandy D. says:

    Love the map critique.

    And while it’s not exactly romance, I recommend Neil Gaiman and Robin McKinley’s books to anyone who loves Bujold. And maybe Sharon Lee & Steve Miller.

  15. 15

    I second Ann Aguirre for sci fi romance and Shana Abe for fantasy.  Two great authors.

  16. 16
    Kit says:

    SO TRUE about Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones. It is made of awesome, and part of it takes place at a sci-fi writers’ convention, with hilarious results.

  17. 17
    Amie says:

    This is absolutely nothing against Scrin, and I think it’s great to get more guys into romance.  But in the past couple of months, there’s been a lot of “Oh, wow, look, a boy!  Let’s drop everything to see what a BOY thinks!” going on at SBTB, and it’s kind of off-putting.  It’s like their opinions/wishes are seen as more valuable, somehow, when I sort of thought the whole purpose of this place was the showcasing of smart, tough, funny women talking about romance.

    I’m absolutely not anti-guy.  But SBTB decries the way romance gets diminished/underestimated because it’s for and about women.  So why play into that by acting like every single guy discovering romance is Christopher Columbus and our new hero? I don’t come here to read what male newbies think about romance.

  18. 18
    NancyB says:

    Note to Scrin on the map: the geographic model (though not an exact source) is the western side of the Appalachians, the Cumberland Plateau (and the fact that it’s limestone country becomes extremely important in book 4….), and the Ohio River area.  Dead Lake might be an analog of one of the Great Lakes, but as best I can recall it’s not called “dead” dbecause of anything to do with lake processes. More things to do with this world’s history…

    /signed/ another geologist, and major Bujold fan

  19. 19

    A suggestion I’m surprised not to have seen yet:

    Sharon Shinn’s novels, particularly her Samaria and Twelve Houses series.  (I like some of these better than others, and have significant issues with some of her books, but she is absolutely a good introduction to crossover fantasy/romance.)

    A suggestion that may be off many romance readers’ radar:

    Sherwood Smith’s Inda and its sequels (from DAW).  Strictly speaking, the romance quotient in these is actually rather low compared to Shinn or Bujold or early Kate Elliott (look up Jaran and its sequels), but an Eddings/Salvatore fan should find the sheer density and scope of these appealing, and the character work is just gorgeous.  (Some readers may find the first book slow going, just because it is as densely written as it is.  It’s worth it; the second book, The Fox, shifts gears and becomes a rousing pirate swashbuckler without losing the density and characterization.)

    I had another thought as well, but morning-brain has driven it clean out of my head.  If I remember, I’ll be back to post that one as well.

  20. 20
    Scrin says:

    Wow. I never dreamed I’d have this kind of reaction.

    I apologize for any spoilers. I tried to keep them to a minimum, but at the beginning I was getting a foundation for the rest of the book, so I just wrote down what I was noting. As I went on, I ran into more stuff that I actually reacted to and could therefore have more commentary about and less spoilers.

    And, Amie, you have a point. I’d much rather be considered a reader who’s recording his impression of a romance than a boy doing the same.

  21. 21
    BadgerChaser says:

    My husband loves Lois McMaster Bujold—she was his bridge from fantasy to romance.  He’s already a sap at heart; his favorite movie is Pride and Prejudice and his favorite holiday is Valentine’s Day.

    However, my husband refuses to read romance novels himself.  Instead, he wants me to read them to him.  So far, we’ve read Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase together, and he LOVED IT.  He was laughing out loud and squealing with delight when the characters finally got together.

    Now we’re working on Lord of Scoundrels, which he likes just as much so far.  We’re halfway through, and I’m not sure how he’ll feel about the plot twists. 

    So, perhaps try Mr. Impossible next?

  22. 22
    Foxfire says:

    I didn’t read this as “Oh boy, a BOY!”, I read it more as “Oh boy, a newbie!”  With the same sort of glee that I would personally exhibit upon having a romance fan come to me and go “OK, so what’s all this science fiction stuff about then, and where should I start?”  (Steve Miller and Sharon Lee, most likely…she said, totally digressing.)  There’s just something entertaining about a virgin experience.  So to speak.

  23. 23
    Wryhag says:

    And then there’s that paranormal romance featuring a shape-shifting trilobite fossil that turns into a hot hunka-hunka with WAY more than a six-pack whenever the full moon shines on the western shore of Lake Michigan.

    Now, who was that author again?

  24. 24
    Brittany says:

    My favorite fantasy romance, so far, is the Tairen Soul series by C. L. Wilson. I just haven’t found many fantasy romances that are as good as that.

  25. 25
    M E 2 says:

    As for about myself… I’m a 22-year-old college student in Mobile, Alabama, pursuing a degree in geology. I play video games. I read, naturally, all over science fiction and fantasy, along with odds and ends here and there. I have a thing for snarky dialogue and commentary (which is how I found SBTB in the first place).
    So,O Masters of Romance, teach me!  yes,

    Ummmmmmmmmmmm, for the most part, wouldn’t we qualify as Mistresses NOT Masters ???

  26. 26
    ev says:

    But SBTB decries the way romance gets diminished/underestimated because it’s for and about women.  So why play into that by acting like every single guy discovering romance is Christopher Columbus and our new hero?

    Because it is so often that men make fun of women who read romance and equate it with weakness instead of the strength that we know we have? IMHO, anyway. I love knowing when a guy has picked up something aimed at women and is man enough to not only admit it, but enjoy it!

    That said, this fellow needs to get himself hooked on her Hugo-winning Miles Vorkosigan series. I read those over and over again and still do!

    Oh definately! I am thinking of finding them in audio for my upcoming trip.

    One of my faves is Elizabeth Moon’s Paksennarrion Series.
    And Weber’s Honor Harrington Series. And Lackey and McCaffrey without a doubt. And, yes, PN Elrod and Marta Acosta’s stuff. Those have all the elements in them and are just good reads.

  27. 27
    ev says:

    To get out of the sci-fi and into some action/adventure where they is always running story lines involving romance go read anything by WEB Griffin. I suggest the Brotherhood of War series first, The Lieutenants. Hubby and I have them in HC, pb and ereader versions so we can always read him.

    Avid fans will be happy to point out to the casual reader how every series, in one way or another, links to the others. It’s fun to find the people, stories or history in them and link it to another one.

  28. 28
    JBHunt says:

    I echo an earlier recommendation for Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series—a radical take on romance, and a compelling one.

    I also love Gail Dayton’s Compass Rose trilogy—again, not your usual 1 + 1 = 2 romantic equation.  Polyamory, anyone?

  29. 29

    I’m so not going anywhere near the “Mistresses vs. Masters” line….

    That said, I’ll second the Elizabeth Moon recommendation, and add that both her “Familias Regnant” series (Baen) and “Vatta’s War” space-opera series (Del Rey) are well worth seeking out, though only the latter half of the Familias series is strongly romantic in content.

    Additional recommendations might include Jennifer Roberson’s Cheysuli and Sword Dancer series (both DAW) and the works of Patricia Wrede (mostly from Tor).  Not all of Wrede’s early Lyra novels are romantic in character, but the duet beginning with Mairelon the Magician and her epistolary series (co-written with Caroline Stevermer) beginning with Sorcery and Cecilia are both excellent faux-Regency-with-magic.

    Though none of these are the rec that went poof earlier….

  30. 30
    Gemma says:

    This is fun. I have also noticed that we haven’t heard much about Lord of Scoundrels recently. Perhaps we should pick something that’s easier to snark about next time?!

    I loved the critiquing of the map. I’m one of those “OMG a map, you don’t expect me to *look* at that do you?” readers.

    I don’t read all that much fantasy romance, so I won’t be much help for suggestions. [I have enjoyed a fair bit of fantasy m/m romance/erotica, but m/m may not be what Scrin would be interested in reading.]

    I third the suggestion for Steve Miller/Sharon Lee. I wish they had already written about 10 times as many novels because I want to gobble them up, then reread them at leisure—wonderful fantasy and romance. As someone else said, Linnea Sinclair also writes great SF romance.

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