November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). In the spirit of the month, instead of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, I’m going to write a short review every day, up to a maximum of 300 words. Think of it is NaNoReMo (National Novel Review Month). This month I’ll do short reviews of books, varieties of tea, and even individual short stories as the mood strikes. So read on!

The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein

Title: The Steerswoman
Author: Rosemary Kirstein
Publisher: Self-published (It was first traditionally published, but then the rights reverted back to the author)
Format: eBook
Rating: 4 out of 5
How I got it: Friends recommended it so I bought it through Kobo

Imagine two women sitting around a campfire in a forest. They’ve only just met and are still sounding each other out, but are coming to the slow realization that they each like the other’s companionship.

One, Rowan, has traveled far and wide, mapping the terrain and documenting local flora, fauna and customs. The other, Bel, is a raider from the outskirts who is new to her companion’s land and watches the fat, prosperous towns around her with a calculating eye.

If I asked you what they were discussing, what would you answer? Military tactics? The strange behaviour of local wizards?

Neither. They’re trying to figure out orbital mechanics. Specifically, they’re determining the trajectory and grouping of objects falling to the ground at a high velocity by drawing rudimentary graphs in the dirt.

Some books pay lip service to the Bechdel Test. The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein takes that well-worn idea, expands it, and tailors it into a compelling mix of fantasy and sci-fi that feels intelligent, sharp, and yet as comfortable as an old leather coat.

Bel and Rowan are fascinating, complex characters with an easy inteprlay, and the central question that The Steerswoman engages with is surprisingly multifaceted: who is allowed to control knowledge? How is it categorized, and how does control over it benefit or hinder society?

Most interestingly, the world of The Steerswoman looks like a bog-standard fantasy at the beginning, but there are compelling hints at the end that what we’re really encountering is some post-post-post industrial society after a technological collapse. I have certain theories about the provenance of the strange blue gems that form the basis of Rowan’s quest, and I hope those theories are proven true in the sequels.

Which, of course, means that I’m buying them. You should too.