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Literature / The Sharing Knife

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The Sharing Knife is a four-volume fantasy/romance/western storynote  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 against malices, and the techno-agricultural "Farmers", who tend to think the malices are less dangerous and abundant than they are, and believe (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

Knife Children, a short followup focussed on Barr, was released in 2019.

This series contains examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: Early in Passage, Barr pranks the river people by convincing them they can protect themselves from Lakewalker powers by wearing iron helmets, resulting in a lot of cooking pots being worn on heads. More than one authority figure has to stifle a laugh before scolding him for it.
  • After the End: After an end, at any rate; the series takes place centuries after the advanced civilization of the 'Lake League' was destroyed by the emergence of the first malices. The parts of the world not covered with uninhabitable blight have mostly gone back to nature, and technology is at levels roughly equal to the early nineteenth century.
  • Amazon Chaser: Anyone interested in Sumac.
  • Animal Theme Naming: Lakewalker 'tent names' (family names) all seem to be those of animals. Redwing, Wolverine, Crow....
  • Aura Vision: The Lakewalkers and malices possess groundsense, giving them the ability to sense and sometimes influence the Life Energy of their surroundings. Dag's attempts to explain it to farmers usually come down to 'think of it like seeing double' but he's quite open about this being a huge oversimplification.
  • Babies Ever After: The epilogue of Horizon sees Fawn and Dag's daughter, Nattie-Mari, a healthy happy baby, and Sumac pregnant with Arkady's child.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comment: During Horizon, when discussing the caves where a malice may have hatched out, and the life it found to feed on:
    Dag: ...And some of those caverns harbor bats.
    Tavia: Thousands of bats?
    Dag: Oh, no, not thousands.
    Tavia: *relaxes in relief*
    Dag: Millions.
  • 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. Her twin brothers Rush and Reed were by far the worst.
  • Boats into Buildings: The architecture of the Downtown (or "Drowntown") section of Graymouth includes flatboats hauled out of the water intact and re-used as buildings. Their owners claim to be all ready for the next time a flood hits the city. Boss Berry is pleased that the Fetch winds up being purchased for such a use, rather than being broken up for timber or firewood.
  • 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.
  • Buffy Speak: From Horizon:
    Fawn (yelling at a terrifyingly advanced bat-shaped flying malice she's trying to lure into a trap): "Down here, you stupid bat-thing, you malice-bat...stupid thing!"
  • Buried Alive: Fawn in Horizon, though they at least appeared dead at the time.
  • But We Used a Condom!: The rhythm method is far more reliable when one party can literally see when his partner is most fertile. Unless that party gets caught up in the moment, as Dag was in Horizon.
  • 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.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The primed sharing knife from Passage and Whit's crossbow in Horizon.
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • In Legacy, Dag is told of a Lakewalker from another camp who was banished for keeping a secret farmer family. That Lakewalker turns out to be the Big Bad of Passage.
    • In Passage, Barr is forced to admit he used his Lakewalker abilities to "persuade" a farmer girl to "go behind the woodpile" with him. Come the epilogue of Horizon, we find out that that girl bore a daughter from that encounter and wants nothing to do with Barr going forward.
  • 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 death to a sharing knife rather than letting it be wasted (the greatest of shames to a Lakewalker.) He then makes the private, intimate ceremony a public spectacle for the gawking Muggles as part of his ongoing efforts to bridge the gap between Lakewalkers and Farmers.
  • 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.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Dag can get very sarcastic when sufficiently irritated. His day-to-day sense of humour is more gently ironic, but with such heavy emphasis on 'deadpan' that people sometimes don't even realise he's joking.
    Saun: I'd thought he had no humor, but finally figured out it was just maddening-dry.
  • Death Seeker: The true reason why Dag has killed more malices than any other Lakewalker. He's spent years going out looking for them, but keeps coming out on top.
  • 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 missing hand is apparently part of what stimulated his magic to grow stronger.
  • Disease by Any Other Name: Diseases and other medical conditions get a bit more narrative attention once Dag starts training as a medicine maker, but the modern, real-world terminology is not used. A few that recognisably appear but go unnamed include appendicitis, a hernia, and a case of placenta praevia, while tetanus is just called by its older name of 'lockjaw'.
  • Dr. Jerk: Medicine-maker 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, without hitting Fawn with the usual accusation of being "Stupid" for expressing her curiosity. Fawn decides right there that Berry's boat would be perfect for their trip downriver.
  • The Empath: Just about everyone with Groundsense is this to some degree. Being in large crowds of farmers can get uncomfortable or even painful.
  • Empathic Healer: Ground-based healing is stressful stuff. If the patient dies and the healer is in deep, it can kill them as well. Even if the patient lives, the healing process is draining for both patient and healer.
  • 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.
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness: Legacy establishes that once a malice becomes powerful enough, it develops a compulsion to start building towers to rule from. The one we see hasn't had very long to work on its tower, so it's only twenty feet of rough-cut logs, but Dag is nevertheless horrified to see a malice advance that quickly.
  • Exotic Extended Marriage: Dag's camp has a case where a Lakewalker couple couldn't have children and their families were pressuring them to break up, so they brought a second husband into the relationship instead. The husbands are married to each other as well. This is not standard Lakewalker custom, but it's not forbidden, and it resulted in children being produced so everyone just went with it.
  • Eye Color Change: 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. We, the audience find out that Dag is even more famous under his married name of Dag Wolverine (and Dag is even more annoyed by that).
  • Fantastic Fallout: The most severely blighted areas, such as the Western Levels, remain inherently inimical to living things because they leach ground from anything that wanders there on contact or even proximity. Lesser blights still take months or years for anything to grow there again.
  • 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.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Map: As noted, the world's map broadly resembles the central area of North America, especially the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: Although the setting is in many respects reminiscent of early 19th-century America, firearms are entirely absent. Instead, crossbows are starting to become prevalent among the Farmers.
  • 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: Groundwork is a combination of Force Magic and Nature Magic.
  • Giant Flyer: The bat-malice and its minions, of the Leathery-Winged Avian variety.
  • Gut Feeling In Horizon, Dag can't shake the feeling that there was something wrong with their encounter with a malice so close to molting (especially since it was traveling out in the open instead of holing up to molt in safety). He realizes too late that the first malice was fleeing from a second, more powerful malice.
  • 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.
  • Honor Before Reason: The reason the Lakewalkers don't take on Farmers to handle tasks in their camps that don't require groundsense to accomplish. They don't want to become de facto lords over Farmers (that being the sort of situation that led to the creation of malices in the first place), so they won't even entertain scenarios that could theoretically lead to Lakewalker Rule.
  • 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.
  • Hypochondria/Panicky Expectant Father: Dag doesn't worry much about his own health (fortunately, given his status as Designated Victim), but he gets a little too solicitous in the first book after Fawn's malice injuries and miscarriage, and he gets really nervous in the fourth book when he realizes that she's pregnant.
    Arkady: Almost all apprentices go through a phase where they're convinced they're coming down with every new disease they've just learned about. I thought you were going to be the notable exception. I suppose I didn't think it through quite far enough.
  • 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.
  • Inelegant Blubbering: In Horizon, Dag has a thoroughly understandable reaction to being dragged halfway up a mountain by a mud-bat and having to beat it to death with a tree branch.
  • 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.
  • Insistent Terminology: Lakewalkers live in tents. In the north, this means structures with three solid walls and a roof, with one side open (covered by a kind of awning and curtain or flap made of animal hides). In the more settled south, this can mean a completely solid structure made out of wooden planks, with glass windows. But it's still a tent.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: No, Lakewalkers are not. But glimpses of their secretive funeral rites (during which femurs are harvested for conversion to sharing knives) started longstanding rumors to that effect.
  • Jerkass: Sunny, who bluntly refuses to take any responsibility for getting Fawn pregnant and doesn't get better from there. Barr starts out as one, with a resoundingly self-centred attitude when he first enters the plot, but proves teachable.
  • 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.
  • Lighting Bug: In Beguilement Fawn and Dag are on the road and are camping for the night when Dag uses his groundsense powers to coax several hundred—or perhaps even several thousand—fireflies into a tree (and then briefly also into Fawn's hair). The light from the insects soon illuminates a love-making session.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: In Horizon, Fawn is the last to know about her second pregnancy because Lakewalker custom is to stay silent about the telltale change in ground until the woman, herself, brings it up. Dag brings her up to speed in due time.
  • 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. When it was killed, it exploded and rained down other malices across the land.
  • The Lost Lenore: Dag's first wife Kauneo was killed in battle twenty years before the story begins, but her loss is keenly felt throughout the books and remains relevant to the development of both the plot and the characters even after Dag falls in love with Fawn. The specific sharing knife that gives the series its title was crafted from her bone.
  • Loveable Rogue: Barr, who is genuinely charming when he isn't trying too hard.
  • Loving a Shadow: In Horizon, one of the young patrollers becomes infatuated with Dag. Or rather "Dag Wolverine" (the hero of Wolf Ridge). not "Dag Bluefield, née Redwing" (the veteran patroller-turned-married medicine maker apprentice).
  • 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 aptitude both, 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.
  • 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 both inadvertently Mind Rape them and result in children with weaker powers.
  • Marionette Master: Mind control/brainwashing is a technique used by both malices and Lakewalkers gone bad.
  • May–December Romance: Sumac and Arkady.
  • 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 cradles, or if she's robbing graves!"
  • Mercy Kill: Sharing (imbuing a sharing knife with one's death) 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 (and one she really shouldn't have made, considering she grew up on a farm).
  • Moody Mount: Dag's "evil" horse Copperhead.
  • Muggles: Lakewalkers call them all "Farmers", regardless of their occupation or where they live,
  • Mundane Utility: When they're not busy killing malices, Lakewalkers use ground manipulation for all sorts of everyday tasks, from chasing flies off your horse to luring fish right into your boat.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: In Horizon, Neeta allows the party to bury Fawn despite being able to tell she's Not Quite Dead. The story is deliberately ambiguous as to whether or not this was intentional or subconscious, though it is made clear she should have known.
  • 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 some young pup decides to sing one at a celebration.
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: Dag in the later books, as he starts exploring the full potential of his ground-manipulation abilities.
  • No Ontological Inertia: When a malice is killed, its mud-men slaves revert to their animal minds, 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.
  • The Not Secret: A farmer girl gets pregnant by a passing Lakewalker (Barr Foxbrush) and marries a farmer boy soon afterwards. She spends the next fifteen years hiding the fact that the baby is not his. At the end of Knife Children, it turns out that her husband has known since the baby was born. The narration points out that he can count to nine.
  • 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, the three are happy together, and they have produced children, so the rest of the clan just kind of adjusted to it.
    • Additionally, it's made quite clear that the husbands are also married to each other.
  • Only Mostly Dead: In Horizon Fawn, Whit, and Berry appear to be all but dead, thanks to Dag's ground shields ground-locking them in response to the bat-malice's attack. They all revive fully once the shield necklaces are removed.
  • 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. Such a calamity nearly comes to pass in Legacy precisely because the Farmers and Lakewalkers in the area refused to communicate with each other — the Lakewalkers only find out about it when the malice goes after one of their camps.
  • The Pornomancer: Lakewalkers with no scruples can use their ground powers to the same effect as a date-rape drug.
  • 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.note  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 lifeforce-sense; it allows 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.
  • Seeking the Missing, Finding the Dead: Berry is well aware that this is a likely outcome of her quest to find her missing father, brother, and fiancé, explaining it's why she named her boat the Fetch rather than the Finder. The trope ends up applying two thirds of the way — her fiancé is alive and well, but joined the river bandits who killed the others.
  • 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.
  • Sliding Scale of Divine Intervention: Somewhere between a 0 ("Gods Don't Really Exist") and a 1 ("The Gods Have Left the Building"). One of Dag's favorite oaths is "Absent gods!" Lakewalkers in general do evidently believe their world is a 1 on the scale; as Dag explains in Beguilement, "Lakewalker legends say the gods abandoned the world when the first malice came". It's a little ambiguous if Dag himself believes this or not. ("Do you [believe in gods]?" "I believe they are not here, yes. It's a faith of sorts.") For all that it appears to be magic to farmers, ground works in a basically naturalistic way, without any hint of divine intervention (albeit essentially granting those who can manipulate ground psychic and even telekinetic powers). The stories of the pre-catastrophe civilization of the Lake League speak of "gods popping in and out of people's lives in a way that I would find downright unnerving", but whether this is completely true, or a legendary or even totally mythologized understanding of a much more (magi-)technologically advanced civilization is outside the scope of the series. For all that the series is clearly fantasy rather than science fiction, whether this world is a 0 or a 1 is therefore a conclusion that is fundamentally left to the reader.
  • 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's prosthetic arm. It's 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.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: In Horizon, Dag risks his place in a southern Lakewalker camp — one with a medicine maker mentor who has the same abilities as Dag and can teach Dag more than he ever dreamed of — to save a farmer boy from lockjaw. In the end, it's the camp patrol captain, not the mentor, that decides Dag's fate. He bans Dag from New Moon Cutoff when Dag pushes back on his refusal to deal with farmers — not helped by Dag pointing out where New Moon Cutoff falls far short of traditional Lakewalker doctrine. Dag's mentor ultimately chooses to follow him instead of staying in camp.
  • Took the Wife's Name: 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 patrilineal one. As Dag Bluefield (née 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.
  • True Companions: Most of the cast in Passage end up becoming this. This continues through Horizon, with the addition of another couple of members.
  • 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.
  • Wizards Live Longer: But only about twice as long as "Farmers". Despite their age disparity, Dag and Fawn likely have similar remaining life expectancies (barring untimely tragedy, of course).
  • 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 Called Me "X"; It Must Be Serious: If Dag calls Fawn anything other than "Spark" or "Bright Spark", something's very, very wrong.
  • 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 Bishōnen Line, as a malice that's eaten many, many animals and grown to tremendous size is often less dangerous than one that has eaten enough humans to learn to think.