Book Review 2008 #46: Sharing Knife: Passage

(disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for writing a review of an ARC of its sequel, SK: Horizon).
Sharing Knife: Passage is the third book in the Sharing Knife series by Lois M Bujold.

The Sharing Knife novels are set in a post-apocalypse low-tech fantasy world that strongly resembles the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys of what was called in the 19th century “The Northwest Territory”. A high civilization of magic fell, leaving farmers, trying to get along in small communities, Lakewalkers, Ranger-like users of minor magics, and malices, leftovers of that high civilization which threaten farmer and Lakewalkers (who hunt them) alike. And despite their common foe, Lakewalkers and farmers trust each other not at all…
The first two novels introduced us to Dag, a one-armed world-weary Lakewalker who falls for farmer girl Fawn Bluefield. In the first, the two meet and are introduced to Fawn’s family, and the relationship slowly grows between them. The second novel reverses this and has Dag bring his now farmer bride to Lakewalker country, to meet Dag’s Lakewalkers and also deal with an even more powerful malice than in the first novel, the way that they met.
In this third novel, Fawn and Dag go south. Accompanied by Fawn’s younger brother Whit, the three collect companions on what becomes a flat boat adventure down a river suspiciously similar to the Ohio. We meet new characters like Berry, who owns the boat and is seeking her lost fiance and father who took a boat down river and never returned. We meet a pair of runaway Lakewalkers who wind up under Dag’s tutelage. And add to that a farmer that Dag’s experiments with being a healer who gets beguiled by mistake, and you wind up with a crowded but interesting set of characters for the journey.
As in the previous novels and in this series, we get subtle hints of worldbuilding, interesting character dynamics and psychology (a Bujold specialty!) and (a little less often) action and adventure. I won’t give away just what Dag, Fawn and company find on the river, I leave that pleasure for the reader to discover. It’s a journey of discovery, in several senses. This book is a little more down than the previous two novels, but only by a moderate degree.
I wouldn’t start the series here by any means. However, this is a worthy successor to the first two SK novels and if you have read those two, you will be satisfied with this third volume set in that world.