Customer Reviews: Beguilement (The Sharing Knife, Book 1)
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Lois McMaster Bujold has become one of my favorite authors. She has all the skill of worldbuilding of, say, CJ Cherryh, an unrivaled ability to combine humor and unstoppable action, and the ability to draw believeable characters about whom I care desperately. She also knows how to write a romantic love story. Beguilement draws upon all those strengths -- but it's somewhat different than Chalion and the Vor universes.

This is a much simpler tale. For example, it doesn't have the history that the Vor universe has... a history that slowly dawns on you as you figure out the reasons each society adopts given attitudes, and the reasons that Miles Vorkosigan is unlikely to discover simple answers. The books in the Chalion series are built on the premise of gods who can, indirectly at least, interact with the world they created. In Beguilement, the world in which Dag and Fawn live has a history, some of which the author has not yet revealed to us, but the world doesn't draw your attention away from the story. Most of the time, anyway. It also doesn't have the non-stop action that characterizes several of the Vor books (which makes me think of James Bond in Space).

As a result, you don't have to have your brain in operation full-time; Beguilement is a book to relax with rather than to cause you to think deep thoughts.

Some of the reviewers here are disappointed that this is just another love story, but I think they may be missing the clues that Bujold leaves all over the place; you just know that the newlyweds will have more to cope with in the next book than convincing Dag's family to accept Fawn. It's obvious that Dag and Fawn will encounter something far more dangerous than the cultural clash that forms the tension through much of this book.

Personally, I love the "grounding," the special ability of Lakewalkers to connect to living things, which serves as the "indistinguishable from magic" skill to the mundane "farmers" who populate most of the world. This is a quick read, but Bujold painted a lot more in the background than fluffy white clouds in a clear blue sky.

I think you'll appreciate this book most if you come to it with an easy expectation: think of it as a summer beach read. It's more than that, I think, but it doesn't have the action or emotional density of her earlier novels. That's fine with me, because I thought this was plain good fun.
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Bujold is one of my favorite fantasy authors, on a par with Patricia McKillip and R. A. MacAvoy when she's firing on all of her imagination cylinders. But this book was a bit kinder, gentler, sweeter, and umm, duller than I was expecting from her. I was looking forward to another "Spirit Ring" and got a double-decker romance. To be fair it has a decent monster, but only in a cameo role. It's a quick "Look, there's the Monster!" in Chapter 5, then nothing fantastical appears for the rest of the book.

Okay, well the hero heals a bowl on page 289.

It's usually an indication of laziness, when a second character has to explain why the book's heroine is special, rather than showing her in action and letting the reader decide. Normally Lois McMaster Bujold's specialty is finely wrought, believable characters, but in "Beguilement" she rushes the reader to judgment. We are told right away that Fawn Bluefield is likeable, intelligent, and pretty. There is no real reason for the author to do this, since Fawn is on stage through the rest of the book, and she really has all of those fine qualities. Maybe the author's `tell rather than show' policy is the reason why "Beguilement" seems more like a romance than a fantasy.

Most of the magic and action take place in the first 50 pages of "Beguilement," and after that we are treated to lots of background, world-building, and a slow but obvious romance. However, there's not much of a plot. If I were to leave out what little magic there is, I could summarize the plot as: heroine runs away from home, falls in love, and with the encouragement of her lover, is reconciled with her family. It could almost be a Jane Austen novel except for the monster.

And that pesky bowl.

I'm not really complaining, though. I like romances, and am looking forward to the next installment of "The Sharing Knife." I just feel like I bought the first book of the series under false colours.
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on October 26, 2006
Judging from responses I've seen here and heard elsewhere, the publisher's decision to split _The Sharing Knife_ into two volumes may end up losing some readers, since there's a tendency for people to feel disappointed because the story is incomplete when this volume ends. I wasn't particularly bothered by the "stopped in the middle" ending, but I knew ahead of time, from advance buzz, that this was Part 1 of a larger story. Hopefully, advertising campaigns will emphasize this to avoid reader confusion. I know, it says "Volume 1" right in the title, but sometimes it pays to drive this sort of thing home with a sledgehammer . . . :)

Moving on to the story, I have to say, as with others who have posted reviews, flat-out romance stories are much less my thing than stories which use romance as a supporting plot element, so I wasn't as taken with this book as I have been with the Vor and Chalion series. However, Bujold has been very up-front about wanting to try "something different," and to see if it was possible to have the romantic element "carry" a fantasy novel. I'd say she's succeeded quite well. Though secondary, the world and cultures that frame the love story between Dag and Fawn are well-realized and believable (too often I've seen "romantic fantasy" wherein the fantasy background is obviously a flimsy afterthought, and a grating one at that). I like the decision to have the as-yet-nameless world be based off of a North American, rather than European, model. After all, no reason why one real-world setting should be more appropriate than another, as the basis of a completely imaginary world. And, personally, I like a fantasy setting that contains redwing blackbirds -- they've long been favorite critters of mine.

Also enjoyable was the pleasant tone, and the portrayal of a positive relationship between two likeable characters, to the benefit of both (even if their families aren't thrilled!). I'll definitely be getting the sequel, and recommending the book to friends I think will like -- or at least tolerate -- the romance-heavy focus.

-- Ruth
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on February 16, 2008
This is possibly the first LMB book that I am considering giving up on. It started well, and kept my attention for the first 7 or 8 chapters. But then it turned into a love story, and has mostly stayed that way for the next 10 chapters. I still have 3 chapters to go, but I am seriously asking myself 'what's the point'.

Warning .. chapter 11 is a complete waste of Scifi/Fantasy paper. They make love for the first time. Normally I'd expect a simple statement like 'and then they made love'. No, LMB devotes a whole ~15 page chapter to that single line. After a couple of pages, I skipped to the end of the chapter to realise my fears were founded.

It picks up slightly from there. They go meet her parents - yawn! But seriously, this is 80% love story and 20% fantasy. Still, the writing is Bujolds and deserves some merit. It's the subject matter that is boring.

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on October 11, 2006
I am a HUGE Bujold fan and have been since Warriors Apprentice. Paladin of Souls is one of my all time fav books with Chalion somewhere in the top 10. After having said this, I was not really that impressed with Beguilement. I am used to having Bujold explore the faults and flaws of her characters and the overcoming of these to further the story. She did this a little bit in Beguilement, but not as much as she normally does. I am very interested in Vol 2 and will buy it on it's release date, I am not saying it is a horrible book. Just it is not what I have come to expect from her. More than anything, Beguilement is a love story. I guess, for me at least, she focused too much on the love story and not enough on the other aspects.
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on March 18, 2007
This book is more about romance and relationships and less about an intriguing new world. The female protagonist is much like a combination of Fiametta from Spirit Ring and Ijada from The Hallowed Hunt and our male protagonist is much like Ingrey, also from The Hallowed Hunt. The romance is predictable and there were a few pages I skipped because Bujold included way too much information about their blossoming sex life.

What makes Bujold's books so special is the genius complexity of her worlds and characters. This book's world, by contrast, is fairly simple and the magic, while interesting, is backstaged by the romance between the two characters -- romance during which Bujold broke the "show don't tell" rule of writing and didn't spare us any details about what either of the characters were thinking. It's a psychological study; there's no mystery or suspense.

I am biased because I don't like books about romance and I was hoping for the usual Bujold fare. Read it if you must -- I couldn't resist even though the inside flap made me wary -- but I found The Sharing Knife to be predictable and not up to par with Bujold's past creations.

Still, even Bujold not at her best is still Bujold... so if you can't resist, go ahead. You'll probably find something about it to like.
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on May 22, 2007
The Sharing Knife, vol. 1, starts off great and could have been another winner, but it degenerates into a torrid romance - and a May-December romance, at that. OK, if you read Harlequin romances, maybe this will be just your thing. But I was very disappointed.

Note that I do like romance in my science fiction and fantasy. I prefer character-based fiction, and romance is often an essential part of that. Also, Lois McMaster Bujold is my all-time favorite author. But I have no interest in long, drawn-out wedding preparations. And the sex scenes were more creepy than anything.

Yeah, I'll probably buy the sequel, because Bujold deserves my trust. She's never failed me before, and she may get back on track in the story's conclusion. She can do far better than this - as the early part of the book clearly demonstrates. Really, part of my intense disappointment might be because the book started out so well. Perhaps I would have given it three stars, if not for that.
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VINE VOICEon July 2, 2008
After reading Lois McMaster Bujold's first Chalion book, I was an instant fan. So, I was really excited to get my hands on the audio versions of the first two novels in her second fantasy series: The Sharing Knife.

Alas, it really pains me to have to write a lackluster review for anything Bujold does, but here we go.

First, let me say that Beguilement is a romance novel, as clearly stated by Bujold herself on her website. In short, Fawn is not respected by her family. She is teased and called "stupid" by her parents and big brothers. She has gotten herself in some trouble, so she runs away from home. She manages to get herself in some more trouble when she meets the minions of a "malice," a creature which sucks the life out of nearby living objects and can only be killed by sharing knives which are made of human bones and are primed by a human's death (someone has to give their life to the knife). Fortunately, Dag comes along with his knives and saves Fawn's life a couple of times. Because of an unexpected occurrence with the knives, Fawn and Dag find themselves traveling together. During that time Dag realizes that even though Fawn is extremely naive, she's actually very bright. And a relationship develops....

Second, let me mention that I really disliked the voice of the audiobook reader, Bernadette Dunn. I have heard her before (Memoirs of a Geisha) and I liked her then, but that was a novel about a Geisha. Her voice doesn't work for Beguilement. It's too feminine, so the parts of the novel that were written with the male point of view (Dag) make him sound wimpy and weak. The voice she used for the female (Fawn) was too naive-sounding, hickish, syrupy, whiny, and often downright cloying.

Two strikes already, but Bujold clearly warns me that it's a romance, and she can't control the voice of the audiobook reader, so I won't fault her for those issues. And, as usual, Bujold's writing is superb. Her characters are well realized (she's very good at letting us view their inner thoughts) and dialogue is realistic.

Here are my main problems with Beguilement:

1. Fawn is unbelievably naive and has low self-esteem. This does not make for a fun or admirable heroine. Her family tells her she's stupid, so she thinks she's stupid. She whines and uses the word "stupid" a lot. I'm guessing that Bujold is trying to impart the lesson that when parents tell kids they are stupid, the kids end up with low self-esteem. Hey, I'm a psychologist, and I'm in total agreement with Ms Bujold's philosophy, but it was getting to the point where I was wondering if Richard Rahl (Terry Goodkind Sword of Truth) was going to show up and start lecturing about Fawn's nobility of spirit.

2. Dag, while likeable, is MUCH older than Fawn. I mean like decades. It'd be like Jordin Sparks with Phil Collins. That's a little creepy.

3. The magic system is really interesting (as Bujold's magic always is). The malices are fascinating, but after the first encounter with one early in the plot, we are treated to no more of these interactions. The rest of the book is slowly pushed along by dialogue, romance, and wedding preparations rather than action.

For someone looking for a chatty romance, I'm sure Bujold is way better than most everything on the romance shelves. But for someone who is expecting the greatness of Chalion, sadly, this isn't it. However, I do wonder if now that we've got the romance out of the way, might she return to the problem of the malices in book two? Now that Fawn and Dag are together, might Fawn have more self-confidence and be a more interesting heroine? Just in case, I think I'll try Legacy. I wouldn't want to miss any excellent Bujold fantasy.
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on December 2, 2006
[My bias: Lois Bujold is my favorite fiction author and I have read all of her novels.]

Beguilement is one of those "neither fish nor foul" novels which is either going to really work for you or is going to fall flat. It's so well-written that I doubt anyone could find it bad, but if you don't buy in to the premise then you will probably be wondering why such a good writer was wasting her time on such an uninteresting story.

But if you do buy into the premise, you'll flat-out love it.

What is this mysterious premise? The typical romantic fantasy novel falls into a standard pattern where the lead characters meet, get exposed to some horrible danger, fall in love, defeat the horrible danger, marry, and live happily ever after. But what if the danger part (including the vanquishing) happens before the characters fall in love and well before most of the plot?

Fawn and Dag are thrown together by accident and bound together by a "sharing knife", something which resonates with past tragedies and broken up lives for each of them. Out of this wreckage of their previous lives, they find themselves drawn into a genuine love for each other, even though both of their separate cultures will disapprove of the match.

Beguilement is primarily a book about real-world consequences to romantic fantasy ideals. For instance, it opens with a young girl dealing with an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. And throughout the novel Bujold keeps bringing our romantic images back down to earth. Her Aragorn-like Lakewalkers have to deal with dirty clothes, bad smelling comrades, nagging wounds, and a sense of futility about their somewhat thankless and never-ending task. Her farmers live a fairly comfortable but definitely rustic life, where a trip to the town twenty miles away is a once-a-year venture. In fact, Dag is something of a walking consequence all by himself, since he has lost a hand in a battle in which his patrol was defeated by an overwhelming force.

Be aware, this is only the first part of a two-part story. It does work reasonably well as a stand-alone book, because it ends at a very natural break-point in the plot. In essence, Beguilement tells the story of the consequences of their meeting and love affair within Fawn's farmer world. Volume 2 promises to continue the story into the alternate society of Dag's Lakewalkers. I expect it will also eventually close the loop on the meaning and purpose of the sharing knife itself.
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on July 10, 2007
I worship Lois McMaster Bujold, but this is not reflective of her best work. It felt very much like a longer project got cut in half, with the first half stretched out agonizingly to stand as a separate book when it was not meant to do so. As previous reviewers have noted, the book does not contain the intense plot or character development of Bujold's prior books. It lures you in with some great concepts and action at the beginning, and then dumps you into the May/November romance (20/55 anyone?) and an endless series of rather mundane wedding preparations for the final half of the book. I'll read the sequel, but my expectations have been lowered.
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