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The Steerswoman

(The Steerswoman #1)

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  2,833 ratings  ·  364 reviews

If you ask, she must answer. A steerswoman's knowledge is shared with any who request it; no steerswoman may refuse a question, and no steerswoman may answer with anything but the truth.

And if she asks, you must answer. It is the other side of tradition's contract -- and if you refuse the question, or lie, no steerswoman will ever again answer even yo
Kindle Edition, 288 pages
Published December 23rd 2013 by Rosemary Kirstein (first published August 13th 1989)
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Nathan Popham The best that I can remember, no, but later books in the series do have some.

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Average rating 4.01  · 
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This is one of those books that I wish I had found when it was published in 1989, or even in the following decade or two. I would have loved the characters and the world. Still, it was enjoyable in its own way, if limited by modern interpretations.

Remember fantasy in the 70s and 80s? They usually followed the adventures of men, although you could have a woman in your adventuring party (usually as the cleric or ranger). Rarely, I'd run into the sword-sorceress combo as epitomized in Marion Zimmer
Mar 08, 2022 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2022-reads
“It came to her that there were reasons behind events, reasons she did not know, and that the world contained many things that were other than what they seemed.”
The Steerswoman is an introduction to what seems to be an interesting story to come — which is both its advantage and downfall. On one hand, I’m interested enough to see what happens first and how soon will the characters catch on to what I’m pretty sure I know is going on. On the other hand, it seems that all the interesting things
Dec 28, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you don't end up with a crush on the sidekick, you're not a lesbian. ...more
Jan 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Hard to believe that this was published in 1989. Seems lazy to say that this story has great characters that are likeable and complex. That the world building is incredibly detailed yet easy to read. All the positive book review clichés that you can imagine are suitable for this novel that often feels like science fiction masquerading as fantasy. A story that has wizards and dragons yet somehow manages not to cross the line into what I consider the fantastical.

I loved the idea of Steerswomen. P
How have I never heard of this series until now? I think the answer is that the mainstream speculative fiction community may not have been ready in 1989 for an extremely competent, well-educated, ethically driven woman to turn up and get shit done without even the slightest suggestion ever arising that she shouldn't be expected to do just that. And are they ready now? Ample evidence suggests perhaps still not, which is too bad for all of us. The least I can do to counteract this unfortunate fact ...more
Dec 13, 2021 rated it really liked it
I can’t believe it took me nearly a month to eye-read this book! I loved it in almost every way. Perhaps it was just ever so slightly vague, where a bit more information would’ve been nice. But the characters are great and the story is interesting. I can’t believe I’d missed this book until now. Thanks, Ryan, for recommending it.
Allison Hurd
This has been heavily recommended by members of my book club, so I'm glad I finally got to it and even more glad that it was pretty dang great. WHAT IF academics were the most revered people on the planet, and knowledge was powerful and dangerous?

CONTENT WARNING: (view spoiler)

Things to love:

-The trope swap. So this is both epic fantasy and scifi and I am HERE for that.

-The premise. Who among us hasn't thought "it would be so diff
May 03, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I really liked this book, and I don't know that I can give a really clear definition of why. It's not an intensely gripping read, but it's definitely one I turn over in my mind and consider when I'm doing other things. I'm really interested in the world Kirstein has created -- okay no, not the world so much as the character of a Steerswoman (or man). Refreshing, by the way, that the Steersmen are sometimes just called Steerswomen as well because there are so few of them.

The idea behind a Steersw
Oleksandr Zholud
Nov 29, 2021 rated it liked it
This is a fantasy with a twist, the first volume (published 1989) of the tetralogy. I read it as a part of monthly reading for November 2021 at SciFi and Fantasy Book Club group.

The story starts with a Steerswoman Rowan in an inn, attempting to collect information about possible sources of strange gems, some of which are found within trees. From what readers can guess they are some kind of meteorites, flying on a non-vertical trajectory from a specific point and hitting objects, like tree trunks
Althea Ann
Jun 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Kirstein's 'Steerswoman' series had been highly recommended to me - and did not disappoint in the slightest. It's fun, well-crafted, well-characterized adventure with an original set-up and believable culture(s). Rowan is a Steerswoman. As the title might indicate, she is adept at nautical navigation, but the main goal of Steerswomen is to collect (and dissemintate) knowledge and information, write it down, and deliver it to Archives. As a valuable source of information, Steerswomen are greatly ...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
This is a very traditional, very tropey, very 1980s fantasy travelogue, notable for starring two women—a scholar and a warrior—who become friends and embark together on a quest for knowledge. I initially enjoyed the two leads and the refreshing difference from the typical portrayals of women in fantasy, but the book ultimately lost me in its slow pacing, focusing in on seemingly unimportant scenes, and casual violence—namely, many unregretted murders by our leads of anyone who gets in their way, ...more
Jessica Mae Stover
It is my intention that you read this series (as I write this, I'm on book four). That The Steerswoman series has flown under the radar for decades throughout its rollout, and yet is better than most fantasy published, is revealing, and a confirmation of the unjust bias and lack of support that too many authors face. We can argue to what degree, but it is.

I'm planning to write more about this series if/when I have the chance, and I'm reviewing books 1-4 here, which will lift the stars higher as
I really, really enjoyed this. And it is SO hard to believe it was published in 1989! In many ways, it's a fun fantasy romp, but it nevertheless tackles some bigger questions that kept reminding me (surprisingly) of Piranesi. It's much, much more lighthearted than that book--please don't expect that level of nuance and literary heft here--but it similarly poses the beginnings of a hefty question about knowledge for the sake of delighting in (and sharing) knowledge versus knowledge for power's sa ...more
Nov 21, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The more I think about this book the better it gets so the 4.5 stars gets rounded up. This one is better read with as little pre-knowledge as possible so I will try very hard not to spoil it.

The small reveals and clues Kirstein leaves throughout are amazing, not so opaque that you miss them completely yet just vague enough to get the brain working. I found the two main character interaction pleasingly nuanced and "real" feeling.

Recommended to just about everyone and I will start the next as soon
Jul 21, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy, sci-fi, stem
4 to 4.5 stars. This book was published in 1989. A sci-fi fantasy crossover series. I'd never heard of the books before, until just recently.

Really enjoyed this very engaging read. A very appealing fantasy world, with likeable and interesting characters. Elements of technology that readers can clearly see are science-based rather than the "magic" the general populace (in the book) believes them to be puts this book into the sci-fi genre as well as fantasy. Clearly more will be revealed about th
Rachel Neumeier
Jun 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The characters: Well-drawn. Rowan, Bel, and Willam are all quite appealing in their different ways. Rowan’s observation skills and general perceptiveness are beautifully handled throughout, and believable, none of that too-good-to-be-true Sherlock Holmes magic. The whole concept of the steerswomen was delightful, and that, too, was handled in a believable way – pretty tricky for such an idealized lifestyle. I loved the bit where all the steerswomen (and steersmen) gave us some insight about how ...more
Apr 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was something of a surprise as I have had this book in my shelves for ages; if I knew how good it was I would have read it much sooner! Rowan, our main protagonist, is a steerswoman, which is something like a Druid. She travels the world collecting and passing on knowledge, freely answering any question about anything as long as she can ask questions back. Along in her travels, she finds a strange jewel and tries to find out more about it; this is where the book begins.

The world is quasife
Dec 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020-tbr, fantasy
This was a solid 4 star read until the last few chapters, which definitely kicked my rating up to the full 5 stars.

I really enjoyed the worldbuilding and the characters in this novel. (view spoiler)

The plot was very well done, with good pacing that moved smoothly and never felt too hurried. And Kirstein masterfully revealed more a
Nov 19, 2021 rated it really liked it
I'm going to participate in a discussion about this book in a couple of days, so I'll keep my review short. Saying a whole lot about it could lessen some of the fun for another reader, since mystery and discovery are crucial elements of the book, so that's probably just as well.

I appreciate how The Steerswoman respects the intelligence of both its reader and its characters, and acknowledges that there are different ways of learning, that everyone has their own strength and canniness. There are s
Apr 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was very interesting. I've always said that sci-fi and fantasy are a spectrum, rather than different genres. I've read hard sci-fi and soft sci-fi. I've read fantasy disguised as sci-fi (Star Wars with its space wizards), sci-fi disguised as fantasy (Pern with its genetically engineer dragons), and works that are squarely in the middle (Dune).

But this is the first book I've read that's not only sci-fi, but diamond-hard sci-fi, and so thoroughly disguised as a fantasy story it took me half t
A true genre mashup. It reads like fantasy but its protagonist, 'a steerswoman', is what we'd call as a scientist in our own world. The slow reveal of the magic?/science? makes for a great mystery.

Kirstein set out to flip the typical fantasy tropes and as a result, this 1989 entry has aged incredibly well. It really is a gem (pun intended).

Thanks to Ryan for recommending we read this as a group.

Aug 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi-fantasy
This book was excellent. Hands-down the best thing I've read in a long time. An original, interesting plot, a huge mystery, and excellent characters. Character building, character interactions, just...everything. Rowan and Bel are both intelligent, capable women, and they plunge into the mystery of the "jewels" with courage, intelligence, and logic rather than the usual sword-swinging approach. Rowan is ferociously smart and well-educated, and it is so, so wonderful to see that not just told but ...more
(As is my wont with series, this is essentially a review of all the books, four to date.)

Rowan is a Steerswoman, one of an order of people (mostly women) who are dedicated to seeking, sharing, and storing information. She has become interested in some mysterious jewels and joins up with Bel, a warrior woman from the land's outskirts, to search for their origin, which proves to be tied up with the powerful, enigmatic wizards. Suddenly, Rowan and Bel are involved in something much bigger than they
Nov 29, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Steerswoman was not what I expected, from the old paperback cover, I thought it'd be a D&D type adventure. I also didn't expect a 1989 Fantasy to have such a capable cast of women, at a time when most D&D parties had at most one woman usually cast as a healer.

I love the relationship between Bel and Rowan,(view spoiler)
Apr 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Steerswoman is the first book of a series, focusing on the explorations of a steerswoman. The steerswomen seek after knowledge wherever they go: learning about local customs, drawing maps, and passing on their knowledge. If a steerswoman asks you a question, you must answer; if you do not, they will place you under a ban, and no steerswoman will ever answer your questions again. Rowan has been a steerswoman long enough that it's baked into her through and through, and she loves her work -- e ...more
Kristin B. Bodreau
Objectively I really appreciate this book. Particularly for the timeframe it was written in. Having a strong and intelligent woman working her way through the world gathering and spreading knowledge. I’m in love with the concept of learning and the scientific and methodical approach to solving problems. The idea of Steerswomen is spectacular.

Bel, Rowan and Willam were all excellent three dimensional characters. They each have strengths that support each other and the advancement of the story.

Cheryl struggles to catch up
Jun 29, 2021 rated it really liked it
Trying again because Ryan. ;)
And WotF group.
ebook from overdrive/libby via okc; sequels also avl. there
Thank you, Ryan! I will read book two asap.

I love the details. Bel's piebald cloak. Red vs. Blue not really signifying deep values. Learning the trick to avoid seasickness (knees loose, head centered over torso, look at the oncoming waves). The wizards secrecy vs. the steerswomen's desire to add to the world's knowledge. The glimpses of 'science' in what is really still a fantasy novel (vie
Feb 27, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this because it was recommended, by an author I respect, as one of the classics of fantasy writing. Ugh. Blessedly short at 264 pages.

I think this book is what happens when an author is overly concerned with character development. The reader learns every detail of the personalities of the main characters, and meanwhile: "Will something please happen?" Plot movement? - not so much.

Worldbuilding?- not so much. The same lead character who (in an age with medieval technology) is working out t
Dec 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition whole take on this book was based on how William's story ended and I was thoroughly satisfied in that regard. The mysteries, the reveals, the unexplored, the characters (both steerswomen/men and wizards), and the world were just extra and equally intriguing. Looking forward to the rest of the series. ...more
Satya Prateek
Mar 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastic book. It's not epic fantasy in any way - there are no prophesies or end of the world scenarios. What it is though is a compelling mystery/adventure of a scholar and her travelling companion. Rowan the protagonist is smart, honorable, a rationalist and gets some wonderful character development that explains how she became a steerswoman. The plot itself wraps up nicely while still leaving a lot of mysteries to explore in the future books. ...more
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