Book 1 of the fantasy tetralogy “The Sharing Knife” by Lois McMaster Bujold. According to other reviews the intent here is one long book broken into sections, which does make sense because of how expository this book feels ultimately. Something I gathered from reading her other fantasy novels, the Five Gods book, and even The Spirit Ring, is that Bujold, as much as she loves writing adventure and military fiction and science fiction, the appeal in her fantasy novels often swerves toward romance and especially in the application of magical systems. Both the Five Gods and The Spirit Ring spend a lot of time working through how a magical system might work. I think this is also especially interesting and a strong element of a few other series/novels I really like like The Name of the Wind and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrill, both of which require magic to cost something. Too often in, say Harry Potter, it feels like magic is free, and that’s no good.
Our story begins here with Fawn kind of running away from home and unthinkingly telling those she runs into that she’s a “grass widow” ie an unmarried pregnant woman. It’s true, but she doesn’t seem to realize it has the same connotation as “slut”. She’s in a town when she crosses paths with a group of “Lakewalkers” a necromancer tribe that has a separate culture from the wider world, whose whole existence is entailed with the fighting of evil magical beings called “malices”. This fighting usually comes with the use of sharing knives, made from human bone, the use of which comes a cost to the user.
But the novel, for the most part, is a romance novel between Fawn, and a slightly older Lakewalker named Dag, who we find out lost his wife, his child, and his hand in one fight.
This book begins the long story of these two, and the folding of their differing backgrounds. It’s more focused than the Five Gods books, which seem to feel the need to cover a wider understanding of the world they inhabit, and sadly, like her other fantasy, minus the Penric books, this one still struggles to find the humor so prevalent in her Vorkosigan books.