Saturday, April 16, 2016

Beguilement (Lois McMaster Bujold)

(The Sharing Knife series, Book 1)
Lois McMaster Bujold
Harper Voyager
Fiction, Fantasy/Romance
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: All her life, diminutive Fawn Bluefield has been picked on and belittled. When an ill-advised tryst with a betrothed neighbor leaves her carrying a bastard child, she runs away from home before she can be told, yet again, how stupid and childish she is. In Glassforge, she aims to build a new life for herself... but plans change abruptly when she's snatched from the road by an inhuman captor, then rescued by a mysterious stranger.
Dag was stalking a dangerous malice, a demonlike creature that twists beasts and men while sucking the very life from the ground, when he rescues a farmer girl. He means to leave her somewhere safe while he continues his hunt, but events conspire to draw her into the very thick of things... where Fawn winds up saving his life. In the process, she becomes tangled up in the deep Lakewalker magic of their malice-killing sharing knives. This has never happened in the history of his people - farmers like her don't even have "groundsense," the extrasensory skills to detect life around them - and it's beyond his ability to unravel. Meanwhile, she's stuck under his protection.
Regular folk and Lakewalkers don't often mingle, and when they do, it rarely ends well. People consider Lakewalkers to be sorcerers and cannibals, while Lakewalkers sneer at the ignorant, land-bound life of "farmers", as they disparagingly call those tied to fields or towns. But something more than mere obligation binds Fawn and Dag, a force more powerful than magic and prejudice.

REVIEW: I'm on a middling-to-bad reading streak lately. Having heard excellent things about this author and series from multiple sources, I figured it would be a good bet to break that streak.
Unfortunately, I was wrong.
Despite being set in a fantasy world and presenting some interesting fantasy concepts (such as the malices and the Lakewalker sharing knives), it's actually more of a romance at heart. The characters almost read as caricatures of romance novel extremes, though, making it difficult to take the core relationship seriously. He's dark, handsome, and tall - invariably the tallest one in any scene - bearing many scars from a life of pain and loss. She's so small she's mistaken for a child at more than one point, with large doe-like eyes and a tendency to need rescuing, not to mention an innocence (particularly in physical matters) that stretches credulity beyond the breaking point, even given that she's less than half Dag's age with scarcely a sliver of his life experience. In one scene, Dag and Fawn are riding double while the subject of marital relations comes up, and Dag must spend a few pages explaining concepts of manual stimulation to the clueless girl... who doesn't recognize the reaction this is prompting in the Lakewalker, even when her hand comes into contact with evidence of that reaction. I can (almost) buy a girl raised in a conservative, backwoods lifestyle not knowing certain aspects of physical pleasure, but Fawn was pregnant when the story started, and being raped (an incident with almost zero lasting impact on the character, once again reducing the violation of a female to a cheap plot device) when Dag found her. Clearly, she's seen the equipment in action, so to speak. And she still can't recognize a hard-on when she feels it, nor does she understand why Dag has such a peculiar look in his eye afterward? I honestly thumped my head on the Kindle cover at this point. Was this supposed to be a parody? The romance between these two opposites creates a lot of trouble for both of them; neither culture respects the other, even aside from the issue of Lakewalker "groundsense" and other matters that make cross-breeding inadvisable. Love, however, keeps its own counsel, and it can be downright selfish at times, apparently. As the relationship heats up, the matter of Fawn the farmer being tied up in Lakewalker magic via an unintended effect of the sharing knives is pretty much swept off the page as the story focuses on the more important matters of convincing Dag's companion Lakewalkers and, later on, Fawn's kinfolk to accept their May-December (more like February-December, given the vast, borderline creepy age difference - the creepiness factor upped by her childlike physical appearance) relationship. Some of the problems, particularly in Fawn's hometown, are so contrived I couldn't even begin to take them seriously... again, pointing to the possibility that this was written in parody, especially when literally nobody else in the novel seems to recognize how perfect Fawn is, not even her own family, save Dag.
There are some nice points to the tale. I liked the world, what I could see of it, particularly the concept of the sharing knives. Fawn could demonstrate some intelligence, especially later on in the story (once some of the wool of innocence has been sheared from her eyes), and Dag had his moments. But I didn't like the world nearly enough to slog through the next book in the vague hope of learning more about it, given the likelihood of being drowned in more relationship drama. Given my high hopes for this story, I'm especially disappointed in how it played out.

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