Literature / The Sharing Knife
The Sharing Knife
is a four novel fantasy/romance/western series by Lois McMaster Bujold
set in a post-apocalyptic world, with a culture patterned on aspects of the nineteenth century United States, especially the expanding frontier. It examines the tension between the two cultures: the magical/traditionalist "Lakewalkers", who are fighting a Forever War
, and the techno-agricultural "Farmers", who tends to think the malices are less dangerous and abundant than they are, and believes (falsely) that the Lakewalkers are cannibalistic black mages
. Though there is some truth in those beliefs.
- The Sharing Knife: Beguilement
- The Sharing Knife: Legacy
- The Sharing Knife: Passage
- The Sharing Knife: Horizon
This series contains examples of:
- Amazon Chaser: Anyone interested in Sumac.
- Animal Theme Naming: Lakewalker 'tent names' (family names) all seem to be those of animals. Redwing, Wolverine, Crow...
- Battle Couple: As unlikely as it seems, Fawn has saved Dag's life as often as he's saved hers.
- Bee Bee Gun: Dag uses groundsense to weaponize a paper-wasp nest.
- Big Brother Bully: All of Fawn's older brothers bullied and mistreated her to some degree. Reed was by far the worst.
- Body Horror: Malices can turn animals into semi-human monstrosities, which they use as slaves and warriors.
- Breather Episode: Passage, though it still has some danger in the form of the river bandits, is mostly a peaceful journey down the river and is the only book that doesn't directly involve a malice.
- Buried Alive: Fawn
- Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": Kind of a weird example; the animals are all given their real names, but canoes are invariably called 'narrow boats', a name which usually refers to a kind of canal barge.
- Charm Person: Lakewalkers tend to do this to Muggles by accident if they're not careful. Malices have an even less pleasant version.
- Convenient Miscarriage: Averted. Fawn's miscarriage did not return her to the status quo, but rather brought on a whole new set of problems, physical, metaphysical and philosophical.
- Cool Old Lady: Aunt Nattie. Mari as well, though she looks too young to count.
- Cruel Mercy: In Passage, Dag agrees to help the villain transfer his life to a sharing knife, rather than letting his death be wasted (the greatest of shames to a Lakewalker.) He then makes the private, intimate ceremony a public spectacle for the gawking Muggles.
- Dark is Not Evil: The rumors about Lakewalker Necromancy are overblown, but their
primary only effective blight-bogle slaying weapons are carved from the bones of their dead and empowered by the lives of sacrifices.
- Death Seeker: the true reason why Dag has killed more Malices than any other Lakewalker.
- Designated Victim: Dag, in a rare combination with being the hero and protagonist. Before the books started, he lost his left hand. In book 1, he broke his right arm. In book 2, he was ground-ripped by a malice and stabbed in the thigh by Fawn. In book 3, he nearly got drowned by a catfish. In book 4, he got a badly sprained ankle and was stuck up on a cliff ledge.
- Disability Superpower: Dag's injured hand is apparently part of what stimulated his magic to grow stronger.
- Dr. Jerk: Arkady Waterbirch is... abrasive. Fortunately he's also a Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
- Dysfunctional Family: Fawn's brothers are not really nice boys, her parents tend to be oblivious to tensions bubbling under the surface, and her family in general treats her as an ignorant child. Then she meets Dag's Big, Screwed-Up Family, and finds out just how much worse she could have had it.
- Embarrassing First Name: Fawn regards the baby animal motif as yet another barrier in her efforts to be taken seriously as an adult, and has sworn never to inflict a similar name on her children.
- Establishing Character Moment: Boss Berry first makes herself known by chastising another boatman who was making lewd remarks to Fawn, then explains what she's carving when Fawn asks, completely and without hitting Fawn with the usual accusation of being "Stupid" for expressing her curiosity. Fawn decides right then that Berry's boat would be perfect for their trip downriver.
- The Empath: Just about everyone with Groundsense is this to some degree.
- Empathic Healer: Ground-based healing is stressful stuff. If the patient dies and the healer is in deep it can kill them as well.
- Eternal Sexual Freedom: Played with. Lakewalker women are empowered and sexually liberated (Fantasy Contraception makes this a lot easier.) "Farmers" have more Victorian attitudes. The books make no bones about which is healthier.
- Evil Counterpart: Passage's villain is a rogue Lakewalker that is basically what Dag would have been if he had gone wrong in every possible way. He spends some time in quiet introspection over this.
- Exotic Extended Marriage: Has a case where a Lakewalker couple couldn't have children, their families were pressuring them to break up, instead they brought a second husband into the relationship. The husbands are married to each other as well.
- False Widow: At the beginning of the series, Fawn claims to be a "grass widow" to explain why she is pregnant and alone. Dag delicately inquires if she knows what a grass widow is. Fawn had thought it meant a woman recently widowed; it really meant a woman in her exact situation, never married but claiming to be widowed in order to escape the stigma of unwed pregnancy.
- Fantastic Racism: Across the board. Lakewalkers tend to be more contemptuous, but Farmers balance it out with bouts of superstition-born violence.
- Fantastic Recruitment Drive: Dag theorizes that this is how the ancient sorcerer-lords became a separate caste, by searching out people with groundsense and adding them to the gene pool.
- Fantasy Americana: The setting is essentially a fantasy version of the Midwest, particularly around the Ohio and Mississippi rivers; Word of God maintains that it isn't actually the Midwest, but the similarities are everywhere from the characters' speech patterns to the map at the front of the book.
- Fantasy Contraception: Groundsense means the rhythm method is very reliable. Technically, it's possible to do an abortion using ground manipulation, but it requires a great deal of skill and is only done in an emergency. The case of ectopic pregnancies is discussed.
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Lakewalkers are reminiscent of Plains Indians; the farmers of 19th-century American settlers. In fact, even the map closely resembles that of the American Midwest, with the Grace River representing the Ohio River, and so on.
- Famed In-Story: Between the number of malices he has slain and the famous Battle of Wolf Ridge, Dag is a near-legend among many Lakewalkers. But few Lakewalkers connect the scruffy, one-handed old patroller with the latter legend.
- Food Porn: There are many loving descriptions of the meals Fawn cooks, particularly in Passage and Dag is amazed at the abundance and variety found at Farmer tables.
- Functional Magic: Combination of Force Magic and Nature Magic.
- Giant Flyer: The bat-malice and its minions, of the Leathery-Winged Avian variety.
- Half-Breed Discrimination: Discussed with Calla and Indigo in Horizon. In farmer society, half bloods face fears of being witches and are not trusted. Lakewalkers do not accept them at all, unless they can demonstrate they can use their groundsense.
- Handicapped Badass: Even before his ghost hand shows up, Dag uses the Bee Bee Gun on a gang of harassers with one hand missing and his other arm broken.
- Have You Seen My God?: Lakewalkers believe the gods abandoned them for their part in creating malices, and that they will return to the world when the last malice has been killed. In the meantime, "Absent gods!" is a popular oath.
Fawn: I heard you people don't believe in gods.
Dag: Rather the opposite, in fact.
- Healing Hands: Very much reconstructed and discussed, especially once Dag gets apprenticed as a maker. Medicine makers prefer to use mundane means whenever possible, since healing (usually called ground work) can be draining. It is possible to do Psychic Surgery and similar, but it carries with it real risks to the maker too. Often, mundane methods of medicine or chirurgy are used primarily, while ground work supplements it to fend off infections, control internal bleedings, or repair nerve damage.
- Hook Hand: Dag's favourite attachment for his wrist cap is a blunt hook with a spring-loaded pincer.
- Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Lakewalkers tend to be tall by Farmer standards, Dag is taller than average for his people, and Fawn is a genuine runt among hers. When added up the differences prove striking; her head barely reaches his chest.
- Humanoid Abomination: Advanced malices become either this or Animalistic Abominations depending on whether they ground-rip more humans or animals.
- Idealized Sex: Averted, Fawn's first time was not enjoyable, and the complications are gone into. But also played straight in a realistic manner: Sex with Dag is mind-blowing from the get-go, but he puts quite a bit of experienced care and attention into making it so.
- I Have to Wash My Hair: Gender Flipped with Lakewalkers. Normally, the woman invites a man to spend the night, and he has to fumble for some excuse that won't give offense if he's not interested.
- IKEA Erotica: Averted. Attention anyone contemplating writing a sex scene: Please read the first book for multiple examples of how to do it correctly.
- Imperiled in Pregnancy: Fawn leaves her home to avoid being shamed for her unwed pregnancy. Then an Eldritch Abomination ground-rips (tears the life-force out of) her unborn child. Things do get better for her, but she has one hell of a woobie-fied start. She knowingly invokes this in the fourth book, using her current pregnancy to lure the flying malice within range of a field-modified sharing crossbow-bolt.
- The Ingenue: Fawn. Interestingly, she manages to retain the innocence and vulnerability of the archetype while also fighting Eldritch Abominations and enjoying red-hot sex with Dag.
- Insatiable Newlyweds: Dag and Fawn's Unresolved Sexual Tension gets thoroughly and repeatedly... um... resolved.
- I'm a Humanitarian: No, Lakewalkers are not. But glimpses of their secretive funeral rites (during which femurs are harvested for conversion to knives) started longstanding rumors to that effect.
- Jerk Ass: Sunny. Barr starts out as one but proves teachable.
- Kaleidoscope Eyes: Dag has a fairly realistic, low-key version; they're essentially brown, but change from gold to black and every shade in between depending on the light.
- Kissing Cousins: It's specifically mentioned that the two men in the three-way marriage are cousins.
- Lethal Harmless Powers: Throughout Passage Dag experiments with absorbing the ground from things, and it seems like a harmless way for him to further his magic For Science!. Then he ground-rips a cross-sectional slice from the spinal cord of a man holding Fawn at knifepoint and it becomes a lot less harmless.
- Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair!: The Lakewalkers were much more advanced societally and technologically in the distant past. Nobody's quite sure what happened, but the legends say that one of their kings tried to achieve Immortality and turned into the first malice, which when killed exploded and rained down other malices across the land.
- Magical Native American: While there isn't any America in this setting to be a native of, the Lakewalkers have similar traits. There's one main difference, though: characters who aren't Jerkasses still get to insult their arrogance.
- Magic by Any Other Name: The Lakewalkers tend to be very insistent that ground is not magic, but have trouble explaining why not.
- Magnetic Hero: Not the actual heroine, Fawn, who only attracts two characters. Rather, it's Dag who attracts twenty-one more through a combination of martial fame, magical ineptitude, and a disregard for tradition.
- The Magocracy: Strongly implied the world of the story was once one of these, before the malices were unleashed and brought it all down.
- The Maiden Name Debate: Lakewalkers use a matrilineal system of naming and inheritance (husband normally takes wife's 'tent' name, and households are passed to the eldest daughter), while farmers use a patrilinal one. As Dag Bluefield (ne Redwing) earned himself a spot in multiple ballads under his prior married name (Dag Wolverine of Leech Lake Camp) this leads to a degree of confusion.
- Maligned Mixed Marriage: Farmer/Lakewalker pairings are looked at askance more often than not by just about everyone, but the latter tend to be rather more dogmatic about the matter. Unlike most cases, there are objective reasons, Lakewalkers need to keep their groundsense (and hence, bloodlines) strong since The World Is Always Doomed, and having sex with Muggles tends to inadvertently Mind Rape them.
- Marionette Master: Both malices and Lakewalkers gone bad.
- Mayfly-December Romance: A mild version; the hero's life expectancy is roughly twice the heroine's and he's already middle-aged (as in, older than her father) when they meet.
Whit Bluefield: "I don't know if he's robbing the cradle, or if she's robbing the grave!"
- Mercy Kill: Sharing can be this, as is slaying mud-men after the malice is killed.
- Mindlink Mates: Lakewalker marriage essentially involves becoming a limited form of this.
- Miss Conception: Sunny tells Fawn she can't get pregnant her first time. She doesn't know if he was lying to get in her pants or if he actually believed it, but either way it's a costly mistake.
- Moody Mount: Dag's "evil" horse Copperhead.
- Mundane Utility: When they're not busy killing malices, Lakewalkers use ground manipulation for all sorts of everyday tasks, to include chasing flies off your horse, or luring fish right into your boat.
- Muggles (Lakewalkers call them all farmers, regardless of their occupation or where they live).
- My Greatest Failure: Twenty years ago in what became known as the Battle of Wolf Ridge; Dag lost all but three of his command, his left hand, and his wife in the space of an hour. It does not help that more than one epic poem/song has been composed about it, and he tends to make himself scarce when one some pup decides to sing one at a celebration.
- New Powers as the Plot Demands: Dag in the later books.
- No Ontological Inertia: When a malice is killed, its mud-men slaves revert to their animal minds—and then die, trapped in the wrong bodies—and the spell is lifted from any mind-controlled humans who have been enslaved by it, though they may or may not be able to go back to their old selves; though the Ontological Inertia is present in the case of the mud-men/animals, who die slowly, trapped in bodies they do not know how to use.
- Not Brainwashed: Alder, Fawn.
- In the fourth book, half-blood Calla thinks she has magically beguiled Sage into marrying her. When Dag discovers the persuasion, he tells Calla she cast a love spell on a boy that was already in love with her.
- Older Than They Look: Fawnnote makes a habit of adding an extra fifteen or twenty years to the estimated age of any Lakewalker that looks older than 30 or so. It is usually accurate.
- Fawn's own size and features work to convince most that she is closer to 12 than 18.
- Polyamory: A rare example of a woman married to two husbands. It's not really accepted practice among Lakewalkers, but they have no actual law against it, and the three are happy together, so the rest of the clan just kind of adjusted to it.
- Poor Communication Kills: Setting aside the repeated incidents rooted in rumor caused by quarter-understood glimpses of Lakewalker customs; it is clear that Malices emerging under a farmer town where no one would recognize the signs of them even if they believed such creatures existed is in many ways the most dangerous scenario possible.
- Power Perversion Potential: Used benignly, Lakewalker ground manipulation can greatly enhance sexual encounters. Used unethically, it can "persuade" a reluctant partner into consenting. It's believed by many farmers that seduction by a Lakewalker effectively mind rapes the seductee into obsession with the Lakewalker for the rest of his or her life. One of the reasons Dag's clan opposes his marriage is that they think he did this to Fawn.
- Psychic Radar Groundsense can be used for this. It's more literally lifeforcesense; allowing a practitioner to detect and sense lifeforce around them, from other humans to animals and even the malices.
- Rescue Romance: How Fawn and Dag met. Partially averted in that each of them credits the other for killing the malice they were fighting.
- Retcon: Later books go into more detail about how groundsense and beguilement work, sometimes contradicting earlier books.
- Romance Novel: The first book is essentially a bodice-ripper "in disguise." The fantastic elements are there, but primarily as a vehicle for Dag and Fawn's budding relationship. The sequels shift the focus to the actual fantasy, although with the love story still as the central role.
- Savvy Guy, Energetic Girl: Dag and Fawn.
- Scars Are Forever: Even minor wounds inflicted directly by a malice are unusually slow to heal, and fade to an odd silvery color once they eventually do.
- Second Love: Both Dag and Fawn for each other, Dag coming after Fawn's (disastrous) infatuation with Sunny Sawman and Fawn coming after Dag's twenty-years-deceased wife Kauneo.
- Settling the Frontier: The farmers are trying to reclaim and settle new land, even when the Lakewalkers deem it unsafe.
- Shown Their Work: The Passage riverboats, details about low tech farming. The river bandits in Passage also have their roots in fact, probably inspired by the Cave-in-Rock pirates of the Ohio River in the 19th century.
- Suddenly Always Knew That: In book four it turns out that Dag is not the first Groundsetter. Every Lakewalker in the south seems to know about this specialty, strangely Dag doesn't even though he once spent a year patrolling in the south.
- Suicide By Eldritch Abomination: Attempted in Dag's backstory. After Dag's first wife died, he passed the Despair Event Horizon and essentially tried to commit suicide by repeatedly going for the kill on every malice he faced. He ended up killing over twenty five, when the most experienced Lakewalker commanders normally rack up maybe five or so in their lifetimes. Many Lakewalkers almost consider him a Physical God by now..
- Swiss Army Appendage: Dag, played fairly realistically in that the attachments take time to switch, are often inferior to regular tools, and cause a lot of physical wear and tear to Dag.
- Those Two Guys: Barr and Remo, especially in Passage but also for a bit in Horizon. Bo and Hod might also qualify. Razi and Utau take on this duty in the first two books.
- True Companions: Most of the cast in Passage end up becoming this.
- Villainous Legacy: In the long-ago Back Story of the books, the ancestors of the Lakewalkers managed to kill their villainous sorcerer-king that threatened to destroy the world. However, it split into fragments and spread over most of a continent, each piece able to grow into a malice. The Lakewalkers in the books are still clearing those out, several hundred years later.
- Virginity Makes You Stupid: Fawn got swept up by romantic feelings during a wedding, making it easy for Sunny to take advantage of her.
- Walking Wasteland: A sufficiently large malice can kill every animal and plant in a region and leach the life from the soil for a millenium.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Dag uses Charm Person on an Obstructive Bureaucrat near the beginning of Horizons after having taken taken one of his young wards to task for doing it in the previous book. He gets called on it almost immediately. Turns out he was seriously stressed because he thought he was turning into a malice.
- Witch Species: The Lakewalkers think of themselves as one, and use it to justify their arrogance towards the farmers. They're wrong—magic can appear in farmers as well, albeit in rudimentary form.
- Wizards Live Longer: But only about twice as long as "farmers".
- The World Is Always Doomed: In the "staving off disaster" rather than "recycled apocalypse" sense — if any malice ever goes undetected long enough to go critical, it will wipe out all life and civilization.
- You Will Be Assimilated: Any living thing a malice doesn't "beguile," it "ground-rips," powderizing it and gaining its strength, knowledge, and to a certain degree abilities. A malice that eats lots of humans can plan tactics, a malice that eats bats can fly, and so on. This incidentally justifies the Bishonen Line, as a malice that's eaten many, many animals and has grown to tremendous size is often less dangerous than one that has eaten enough humans to think.