Del Rey, July 2003, 15.95, 672 pp.
On a world where knowledge and technology are at a medieval level, wizards employ magic for good and ill. Unlike the wizards, the highly respected secular order of Steerswomen is considered benevolent knowledge seekers who always truthfully answer questions put to them. Any question they ask a person must answer or face a ban respected by all the Steerswomen. One day at an inn, an inquisitive Steerswoman questions someone about a jewel they have found that matches the one Rowan possesses though these jewels are rare and unique.
The Steerswoman meets an Outskirter wearing a belt made of the jewels. The warrior woman Bel and Rowan decide they like each other enough to travel together but before they get very far, soldiers attack them. They escape, but a fire breaks out in their room that spreads throughout the whole inn. Dragon nestlings controlled by a local wizard caused the fire. Rowan concludes that the wizards don't want her inquiring about the jewels. Heedless of the danger, Rowan and Bel set off to obtain answers but that leads to more questions that must be answered by the wizard Slado who set his peers upon Rowan.
Rowan learns that the jewelry is made from a Guidestar, a wizard made object in space that fell to earth and broke in pieces. Using mathematical equations, Rowan calculates that the Guidestar is in the Outskirts. She and Bel intend to find it and learn why it is so important to Slado. The Outskirts are filled with nomadic tribes and the two women are lucky to fall in with one by saving one of their members from a Goblin attack. Bel fears that Slado is consolidating his power in the Inner lands and once accomplished, he will turn his attention to the outskirts.
While living among the tribe, Rowan and Bel are made to feel as part of the tribe and in turn they come to care for their benefactors as if they were family. It horrifies them to learn that Slado's minion infiltrates their tribe. When they question the spy, he gives them the answers they seek and delivers proof of what he says. When Bel and Rowan finally see the Guidestar and learn it is a man made machine acting on pre-programmed instructions, they realize what Slado's goal is and vow to stop him using any means possible for if they don't, their world will die.
THE OUTSKIRTER'S SECRET is the tale of their journey to the fallen Guidestar. Bel, who is familiar with the culture of the Outskirters becomes the teacher and Rowan the student as they join a nomadic hunting and gathering society in action. They easily assimilate into the tribe. The protagonists learn what the wizard's Slado's ultimate goal is and realize they must kill him before he obliterates their society. This reviewer can hardly wait for next installment, THE LOST STEERSMAN which will be published in the fall 2003 because THE STEERWOMAN'S ROAD is epic fantasy at it's best.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner