Sharing Knife series

Here’s a column by Liz Bourke at Revisiting LMB’s Sharing Knife series.

Interesting! I have read this series quite a few times because it is a comfort read for me — something I will pick up if I have a cold or just feel under the weather, or if I want to read but not something new-to-me, or if I want something pleasant to read a few pages of before bed, or whatever. In general:

–I like the first book quite a bit

–I skip lightly across most of the part where Fawn is visiting Dag’s camp and family in the second book

–I like the third and fourth books much better than the first two

–And btw, Knife Children, the novella that is set after this series, is quite enjoyable and well worth picking up.

So what does Liz think?

Lois McMaster Bujold’s Sharing Knife tetralogy never, I think, equalled the popularity and recognition of her Miles Vorkosigan novels or her World of the Five Gods work (Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls, The Hallowed Hunt, and the Penric and Desdemon novellas…) but it remains, for me, a revelation about the kinds of stories that it is possible to tell in fantasy, and the struggles it is possible to reflect.

Yes! This is a promising beginning to the post. I would say that the Sharing Knife stories are unusual in their emphasis on showing the daily life of ordinary people. Sure, sometimes there are giant bats, but mostly these are stories about daily life on a farm, in a camp, on a small riverboat. What we see are ordinary people living their lives while also dealing, generally in small ways, with the necessity of pushing gently for broad-scale societal change. Or that’s what I think. Let me read a little more …

Ah! Liz does mean that, in a sense, but she also has in mind the difference in handling a threat like a Dark Lord, something that is Big and Immediate and then Over, versus handling a threat that requires slow, grinding work generation after generation. That’s a good point too!

Click through and read the whole thing if you have a minute.

Meanwhile, what did you all think of the Sharing Knife series? How about compared to the Vorkosigan and Penric stories? I am not actually sure how I would rank these three series personally. I can see going V –> P –> SK, but I can also see shuffling those letters around into a different order. All the series include books that are somewhat uneven in quality.

But for warmth and settling down comfortably, it’s probably exactly the reverse: SK –> P –> V.

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8 thoughts on “Sharing Knife series”

  1. Interesting question. I actually stopped reading the Vorkosigan books, so I think by revealed preference I have to rank them last, although I loved many of them a great deal. I think I would rank the Sharing Knife books as my favorites, followed by Penric, followed by the early Vorkosigan books.

  2. Allan, that’s interesting. Where did you stop with Vorkosigan? I don’t consider that I’ve stopped reading them even though I’ve chosen to skip the most recent volume — and I did buy and read “The Flowers of Vashnoi,” though I found it only so-so.

    I would definitely still put Vorkosigan as her best work, followed by the 5 Gods stuff and then the Sharing Knife — my take on the latter is similar to yours, Rachel, although I was less taken with the first volume and the whole thing is less of a comfort read for me. Penric is so uneven that I’d probably end up putting just those stories below the SK books, despite how much I like the high points, but the two Chalion volumes are so good they change the order.

  3. I am very fond of the SK books, especially 3 & 4. I like the world and the basic decency of most of the characters. Also that Fawn doesn’t turn out to be super special magical, she simply is intelligent, uses it, and coming from a different background can have insight due to fresh take. And, I hadn’t articulated it as well as the OP, but, yes the long term grinding task. Dag’s a bit too good to be true, it sometimes seems, but he’s also got a lot of experience as well as willingness to change.

    I am also fond of 1 & 3 of the Five Gods setting, #2 leaves me cold.

    I like more of the Vorkosiverse books, but then, there ARE more of them. I started losing interest, though, after DI, and haven’t read the last few. The good ones, though… they left a mark.

    Penric I take or leave. I liked the first couple, but whatever draws me back doesn’t seem to be in them so my attitude is, get to them eventually maybe.

  4. The Vorkosiverse books were my intro to LMB so are always my favourites up to Cryoburn. I still maintain that LMB should just have stopped there and further stories should have been the novellas. Next are the 5 Gods stories and thank you Craig and Elaine for remembering that these stories are not just the Penric novellas but include the more engaging and impactful Chalion novels. I like the SK series for LMB’s layering of the everyday, human delights and conflicts with the horrible, ongoing threat of the malices.

  5. Craig, I am surprised. I just took a look through a wiki on the Vorkosigan Saga, and I recall every book listed there, so, contrary to my recollection, I seem to have read them all. I’m not sure why I thought otherwise. Maybe because there’s only been a handful in the last decade and I wasn’t crazy about them?

  6. Kootch, yeah, for some reason Chalion slipped my mind even though I think it’s one of the best books LMB’s ever written.

    Elaine, are you saying that you liked The Curse of Chalion and The Hallowed Hunt, but NOT Paladin of Souls?

  7. Yes.

    Ok, I guess I’ll elaborate.
    I’m not sure what draws me to HUNT. Objectively Ingrey is pretty passive – or wants badly to be, and tries to put his head in the sand for at least half of it, all of which would normally be a deal breaker – and the villain is by far more interesting… but I like it nonetheless. Maybe I like watching him grow. Plus telling polar bears down, and having it stick.

    Paladin … I could say Ista whines too much, but I think it’s deeper than that… essentially I never started to care about anything or anyone in it. (That scene where his Father calls him home… when people started praising it I had to go find it, because it hadn’t registered during my reading.)

    Which, come to think of it is how the Penrics have been coming across in the last few. Maybe it’s something about how LMB writes the Bastard associated characters.

  8. Elaine, that’s so interesting! I feel pretty much that way about the characters in The Hallowed Hunt — and I must admit I don’t remember the detail about the polar bears.

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