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The Steerswoman

(The Steerswoman #1)

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  2,217 ratings  ·  265 reviews
The Steerswoman is the first novel in the Steerswoman series. Steerswomen, and a very few Steersmen, are members of an order dedicated to discovering and disseminating knowledge. Although they are foremost navigators of the high seas, Steerswomen are also explorers and cartographers upon land as well as sea. With one exception, they are pledged to always answer any questio ...more
Paperback, 279 pages
Published August 13th 1989 by Del Rey Books
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Janet Ledford No, none that stood out as such. Have you read any Laurie J Marks books? I truly loved her Elementl Logic novels!! Queer characters and themes abound!

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Average rating 3.98  · 
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 ·  2,217 ratings  ·  265 reviews

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Dec 28, 2007 rated it really liked it
If you don't end up with a crush on the sidekick, you're not a lesbian.
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
May 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Althea Ann
Jun 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
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 will review the first book alongside the second here, which will
Aug 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Rachel Neumeier
Jun 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 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
Apr 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
Satya Prateek
Mar 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Feb 27, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Jan 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing

This was such an enjoyable read. Rowan, the main character, is entertaining, engaging, and believable. She is the Steerswoman of the title, and her curiosity is piqued when she encounters blue jewels unlike any others she has come across in a variety of places. She wonders where they came from, and how the came to be so scattered across the world. She can't quite work it out, but as she investigates she realises that someone really doesn't want her to know.

And knowledge, the gaining and the shar

Anna Livingston
May 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed the heck out of this book. It's solidly written, and a swords-and-(sort of ...) sorcery book with two intelligent female protagonists teaming up to investigate a mystery? Sign me up, please. Rowan's logical mind and Bel's skills as a warrior complement each other perfectly, and what could have been an ordinary relationship in which the educated woman continually (and tediously) imparts wisdom to the barbarian is in fact a relationship of equals, with the two women learning from each ot ...more
Sep 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sf
So this was pretty awesome.
Steerswomen, apparently, are kind of like traveling librarians. They know about all kinds of things (especially maps, which I guess is where the steering comes in).

They are sworn to answer truthfully any question they are asked, EXCEPT that you also have to answer their questions! And if you refuse, NO STEERSWOMAN WILL EVER ANSWER YOUR QUESTIONS AGAIN.

Oh, and also there are wizards, who(we know, but the people in the book don't) are not really magical people but they j
Jul 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: a-own-it, fantasy
I don't understand all the great reviews this book has. I found it to be really slow and boring. Plus the whole concept of a steerswoman makes no sense logically. Their deal is that they will answer any question they know the answer to, but if they catch you lying they will blacklist you and no steerswoman will ever answer a question for them again. Which is ridiculous - how is that going to be enforced? All a person would have to do is just get a friend to ask for you, assuming the next steersw ...more
Sep 26, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: space
This entire book is one long passage of disbelief, or perhaps rather a passage of ignorance. In either case, the facts become obvious to the reader in short order, and we have to wade through a tedious travelogue while waiting for the protagonist to figure it out. ...more
Tim S
Mar 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was really intriguing. A society of female scientists in a fantasy setting is a brilliant premise, and the writing was brisk and straightforward. Elements of it had a very 'sword and sorcery' feel to it, but the ending promised a more epic scope going forward. I definitely want to check out the other books in this series.
May 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sff
The one where Rowan finds a gem, takes a journey, meets some wizards, and begins to discover that she may be wrong in thinking she lives in a fantasy universe.

The first scene is very slow; I spent the entire scene quite certain that I'd be tossing the book when I'd read my fifty pages. But once things start moving, they move along at a pace that feels right, and the way the story captures what it feels like to learn -- to put together partial information and begin to build on it -- is thrilling
Dec 27, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
The Steerswoman is an interesting novel with a fantasy feel, but some hints that it might be more of a science fiction universe — especially if you see the original cover of the second book. In this book, the hints are subtle but do begin to build up, and even if you jump ahead in your guesses, it’s strangely satisfying to watch the eponymous steerswoman, Rowan, get stuck into the problem.

That’s probably starting at the wrong end, so here’s the intro: The Steerswoman is a fascinating novel which
Mike Finn
I love it when you pick up a book with neutral expectations and within a single chapter, find yourself looking for extra reading time in the day so that you can stay in the flow of the story.

"The Steerswoman" gave that to me on the morning I opened it. It was an intriguing blend of the familiar (sword and sorcery setting with a hint of a high tech past, a search for a kind of gem that may not be a gem, a coaching inn filled with pilgrims, red-coated soldiers in service to a mage and a band of b
Feb 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very satisfying mix of science fiction and fantasy. STRONG female characters who are exceptionally capable are a real plus. Quick easy read, a page turner. Just what is needed in these trying days in which the actual real news is a truly frightening horror show - an escapist reprieve.
What a delightful, comforting little book! :D

I'm actually reading The Steerswoman's Road, which contains both this and The Outskirter's Secret, but dammit, I'm getting Goodreads to count it as the two books it rightly is.
Phil Kozel
Apr 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Jan 17, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've never read a story quite like this one. This is a world largely free of patriarchal and gender expectations, where roles are filled by both men and women. And the steerswomen build their work and their philosophy on the free and open exchange of information.

So conversations in this story don't go the way you think they will. Confrontations play out differently. And for once, we have a novel in which the female protagonist is not threatened with sexual violence. Imagine a book with a female
Jul 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: speculate
having read this immediately after left hand: girls! girls! girls!

i loved that this book was just straight up about two women (although i was a little disgruntled by the later addition of a Special Destiny Farmhand teen boy), and i love romance but i appreciated that they both just like, had casual flings but no real romance. rooting for them to get together in later books but i do not foresee that happening.

i almost gave this a 3.5, solely because the ending frustrated me, but then i was like,
May 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
I really enjoyed The Steerswoman. I'm not entirely sure how to rate it -- my instinct said three stars, despite my enjoyment of it. I think it is worth four, though: I read it quickly, didn't want to put it down, and I enjoyed the world -- or at least the concept of the steerswomen. I enjoyed the equality of the world: no one questions Rowan's ability to take care of herself or Bel's fightings skills, guards are as likely to be female as male...

Obviously, it's not a complete story in itself. The
Jun 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
Other reviews have discussed the steerswoman principle; I will focus more on the world.

As an sf reader, it's really clear that these humans are colonizing and gradually terraforming a new planet. They have also lost a lot of tech, including electricity; the few humans able to work with that are the "wizards", which is apparently a closely inbred and secretive clan.

This makes these books a really delightful combination of science fiction and fantasy, with intelligent protagonists who are beginnin
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Other books in the series

The Steerswoman (4 books)
  • The Outskirter's Secret (The Steerswoman, #2)
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