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.