Previous Entry Share Next Entry
The Language of Power by Rosemary Kirstein
james_nicoll
The Language of Power: The Steerswoman series, Book Four
Rosemary Kirstein



Reading this, the conclusion I come to is that either I never actually read it – which is sad because I do have a copy – or I managed to completely forget the plot. The books tend to jump back and forth between the civilized Inner Lands and the more wild regions; this is a return to an Inner Land-focused plot. The author also likes to shift between sub-genres from volume to volume; this would be a caper novel.



Rowan has returned to Donner, where the books began, following the footsteps of the Steerswoman Latitia, who had an interest in the wizard Kieran, once the wizard dominating Donner. Unfortunately Latitia has been dead a long time, Kieran even longer and even townsfolk old enough to remember the wizard are thin on the ground.

In short order Rowan and Bel are joined by an old friend, one who brings with them a unique perspective on the wizards and on magic.

It takes a bit of digging but Rowan is able to establish to her satisfaction that Something Dramatic Happened and whatever it was it caused Kieran to completely change from a murderous jerk – a wizard, in other words - to a kindly old man, and it may be behind Slado's long campaign as well. What the event was is obscure but Kieran's old house, now the wizard Jannik's, may contain records indicating what the event was.

The wizard Jannik might like to present himself as the protector of the town but he is unlikely to allow a steerswoman, in particular the one he burned down a good chunk of the town to try to kill, access to his lair. This means he has to be lured away from his home long enough for Rowan and her allies to gain access. This may sound straight forward but it isn't and the process by which this carried out provides even more clues about the past of this world, as does the actual foray into the building.

Not to derail the review early off but I am struck by how often "men lie" turns up in these books. Granted, part of this is because the wizards seem to favour men over women and the wizards are all about concealing information and blatant lies, but consider Slado, Fletcher, Janus and in this, Willam, all of whom are exposed as having kept some vital, perspective-shifting piece of information to themselves.

The wizards always were presented as somewhat less than entirely stirling; the sibling wizards Shammer and Dhree in the first book, for example, kept a fifteen-year-old "to serve both wizards’ pleasure," the wizards are in the habit of getting lots of commoners killed in their mysterious squabbles and of course Slado can pass as a moustache-twirling villain but Jannik is even by wizard standards an unfortunate combination of mean and powerful.

As I said, I have no memory of this book at all – I thought I'd read it and the Language of Power referred to the Demonic written language when in fact it refers to something else entirely – and so I'd missed/forgotten the whole business about the Krue. I would ask what language they are using except that this passage

When Willam passed by after arranging his bedroll, he caught a glance of one page. He leaned forward and indicated. “That word is misspelled.” Under his correction shoot became chute.

Seems to indicate English or something derived from it. "Crew" does appear in dialogue:
“Noon-tide tomorrow, or the day after. Take that much time to gather up the rest of the crew; what with the delay, who knows where they’ve wandered to?”

So I am a bit baffled by this:

“I’m not Krue.”
“I don’t know that word . . .”
“It’s the name the wizards use for themselves. Not just the wizards that you see, that the common folk know about, but all of the wizard-people.”

Why would she hear that sound as "Krue"?

Again, Rowan lacks the right perspective to understand the significance of the clues she finds (and she knows this) but the reader should be able put together the use of the term Krue and

In the relevant area, one star; then that star gone, and four in its place; then one star again. “These three images, all on the same night?”
“Rowan,” Willam said, “these images were captured just seconds apart.”

If Kirstein sticks to her pattern, the next book should be set in some alien realm far from the Inner Lands... But I doubt another First Contact or Recontact book is looming because the fun of the series is watching Rowan work things out or nearly work things out. Note that William is not given a chance to sit down with Rowan to explain wizard magic in painsaking detail, only enough time to give her highly suggestive pointers.

Still, Slado is committing acts like using Routine Bioform Clearance on the Outskirters, and while he could have done that at any time in the past few decades, the fact that he is doing it now may be significant. For that matter, Keiran's subsequent actions after his discovery really only make if he thought that discovery would have consequences in his lifetime and he was old when he learned what he learned. Maybe I am wrong and maybe Rowan is going to learn how Krue is really spelled in book five or six.

You can purchase the book here

[This is a placeholder for the sample of the first chapter: the author's website seems to be done just now]

So, about the map:

http://www.rosemarykirstein.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/TLoP-map-final.jpg

I am absurdly bothered by the detail of the Dolphin Stairs; you can see the far side of it so it's not so huge the far side is hidden by the curvature of the planet but given how long it takes to get around the Inner Lands it's clear my estimate from the description of several kilometers is wildly. Any guesses as to how wide it is? And is that state of affairs sustainable given the width of the falls compared to the body of water draining through them?

Also posted at Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comment(s); comment here or there.

I read it not so long ago (three years, perhaps?) and I tend to forget plot details rather quickly. What has stuck in my memory is the way Rowan and her old friend figure out what's going on with the dragons. It occurred to me while reading it Rowan had no concept of "machine", something which even the ancient Greeks had. We call Rowan's world medieval but other than the steerswomen, it's more iron age than medieval.
According to Kirstein the next book's title is "City in the Crags" so I expect it will be set there (bottom west of map).

In the first book, didn't the Steerswomens' HQ (whatever it was called) have a mechanical clock, or am I misremembering?

There was one mention of something like a very primitive clock, and you'd assume this meant Rowan should know what a machine is, but at no point does she have the insight that gur qentbaf, nf jryy nf zbfg bs gur jvmneq'f vafgehzragf, ner whfg irel pbzcyvpngrq znpuvarf.
Perhaps it's the only such device in existence on Rowan's world and Rowan just hasn't been able to generalize and perhaps it's an oversight by the author.

The formatting around the quote about the presumed-rockets is broken.

It doesn't make a lot of sense to me that they were taken just seconds apart, though.

I think this book and the first one are my favorites. The scene with the remote communication was breathtaking; all from Rowan's POV. Masterful.

I am really struck by what terrible people the wizards are in this series, which on an unrelated note I think of as the scientists versus engineers series.

Do we have any idea why they thought it was a good idea to leave most of the population in a state of abject ignorance?

They are a bunch of mustache twirl-ios, aren't they? almost as bad as Vinge's villains.

And that makes Kieran's face turn even stranger. What, if he acts nice at the end of his life, all will be forgiven?

Well, in terms of entitlement and pointless meanness no worse than many of the 1% or any given group of libertarians.

It's kind of pointless for Kieran to become nice if he doesn't get the rest of the Krue to go along with him. Well, unless the point is to present himself as the only nice one in the Krue to whoever is dropping by.

Going back to an earlier thread, I don't see how humans settling here could be an accident, given the broad range of plants and animals they brought, not unless this is like the early Grimes universe where ships had to plan on a fair chance of misjumping across the galaxy and everyone carried Kolony inna Kan.

To be fair, these date from the 'shimp and algae is all you need' days of closed-loop life support for space travel. Well, sorta, Grimes stories tend to read much older than they actually are. Well, he is explicitly related to a certain Hornblower, after all.

I read it as 'hoping to avoid an impromptu firing squad' niceness, not any sort of concerted moral niceness.

It is disquieting to contemplate the degree of mission drift that's possible over sixty generations, too. What may have started as 'everyone remain calm, and don't tell the passengers, we don't want to panic them' has clearly gotten out of hand.

There could also be something of a Nivenesque situation where the original automated exploration ships were programmed to find habitable conditions for Earth life, but didn't adequately specify over what area or for how long. Thus you get colonies like Mount Lookatthat on the planet of Plateau where the rest of the planet is uninhabitable, or Wemadeit where the roboship landed during the one of the, at most, two times of year when the ground wasn't being subjected to continuous gale force winds forcing the colonists to live mostly underground.


I missed this review until now.

Do we have any idea why they thought it was a good idea to leave most of the population in a state of abject ignorance?

One possibility is that this was all originally voluntary and the passengers were all anti-tech back to the land types who wanted the wizards to take care of the terraforming for them. Alternately, the wizards are simply dastardly villains.

I was wondering if it's a Marooned in Realtime situation, where they didn't have enough high tech to go around a growing population. They've got geosync satellites with particle beams but I'm not sure they can make any more. Though I just read the passage where Jannik leaves his meeting, and it seems like a very small rocket is his transport? Still, orbital difficulty >> sub-sub orbital difficulty.

Limited high-tech wouldn't explain keeping the rest primitive. Though I'm not sure if the wizards are actively keeping them primitive vs. being malignly neglectful and not teaching them anything. I doubt the wizards can be spun as meaning well in the end but there might be more roots than "we like the power differential."

Corvus at least was described earlier as being genuinely helpful in using his scrying information to notify about bad weather. "He’ll
predict the weather, sometimes, and always if there’s a heavy gale. And if the fishing is poor,
he’ll give advice that’s always true." Plus the installation of electric streetlights. Vs. Jannik's "helpfulness" in not unleashing the dragons.

Hmm, though he was keeping the lighting 'spells' secret. That's more than neglect, though still not persecution.

***

Anyway I came here to note that the books are quite diverse: lots of skin and hair colors, a bit of sexual orientation diversity, and no obvious sexual division of labor -- warriors and bawdy-houses are both equal opportunity, if not explicitly equal. The big exceptions being the mostly female steerswomen and the mostly male wizards. The former is commented on; I don't think either is explained. Why have the steerswomen been mostly women for centuries?

Edited at 2014-07-23 04:40 pm (UTC)

I have a feeling you could get a great injury-based drinking game out of these books.

I think it is mentioned they have records going back, what, a thousand years? And they (steerswomen at least) have sufficient understanding of mathematics to calculate the height and size of the guidestars, and know that the world is round, but apparently before Rowan no one had worked out the concept of an orbit?
They have records going back a thousand years, but no record of their origin? no myth of the origin?

These things bother my wsod a bit.

You don't need a whole lot of mathematics to calculate things like the size of the planet. The Greeks did it 2,500 years ago and they didn't even have positional notation.

I'm blanking on how to interpret the photos of the lights. I mean, obviously you read it as 'ship', but I'm having trouble making sense of it. Unless they're blinking running lights.

Lord of Light is another set of Deicratic crew, perhaps mentioned in previous post comments.


Turning the ship around for deceleration?

Really, that's all I can think of, and as I said, it doesn't make much sense.

Why would she hear that sound as "Krue"?


Maybe it's a matter of accent drift. Steerswomen are good at picking out accents, but since Rowan never comments on the accents of the wizards, they must be good at sounding like someplace familiar in the Inner Lands, and probably the area where they're based. That does not mean that they haven't developed their own accent. "Crew" in a Krue accent might sound different enough from the same word in the accents Rowan knows that she wouldn't recognize it as a familiar word, and if Will only ever heard the name of the wizard's people in their accent, he might pronounce it that way while otherwise
speaking in his normal just outside of the Crags accent.

Quick, do "Mary," "merry" and "marry" sound the same? Can you hear the difference between "pen" and "pin." The answer depends on the speaker's accent.