This is an omnibus edition of "The Steerswoman" and "The Outskirter's Secret."
Kirstein's 'Steerswoman' series had been highly recommended to me - and did not disappoint in the slightest. It's fun, well-crafted, well-characterized adventure with an original set-up and believable culture(s). Rowan is a Steerswoman. As the title might indicate, she is adept at nautical navigation, but the main goal of Steerswomen is to collect (and dissemintate) knowledge and information, write it down, and deliver it to Archives. As a valuable source of information, Steerswomen are greatly respected and deferred to. People think there is little they do not know. But Rowan has come across a mystery - some strange 'jewels,' the source of which is unknown, and about which strange rumors have collected. At a tavern, she meets Bel, a woman of the dangerous, barbarian Outskirts, who owns a whole belt fashioned of these jewels. Bel tells Rowan that her father crafted the belt, but that she could guide Rowan to the place where he found them, if she is up for a challenging journey. However, then the two women are attacked - and wizards seem to be behind it. Wizards are the traditional rivals of Steerswomen - but usually they keep out of each other's way, avoiding violence. What is it about these jewels that the wizards want kept secret?
Although the book is styled as a fantasy, it is obvious to the reader that this is a colony world, and that many of the things that these people consider to be magic are actually vestiges of high technology. Watching Bel and Rowan discover truths about their world is fascinating - but equally of interest is watching two culturally different people become fast friends.
In 'The Outskirter's Secret', the story begun in "The Steerswoman" continues. The Steerswoman Rowan and her friend, the Outskirter Bel, travel to find the source of mysterious jewels. At first, this was no more than a routine inquiry, but as deception and violence follow them, they begin to suspect there's something more to discover. Is there a plot by an evil wizard to disrupt weather patterns and take over the world? Is the way of life followed by the barbarians of the Outskirts threatened? What do the Guidestars, which have long been used in navigation, but now, Rowan suspects, may be more significant, have to do with it? The more Rowan discovers, the more questions she has - especially concerning the Outskirts, and the land beyond, which seems completely inimical to human life.
An excellent novel, especially notable for its vividly drawn cultures.