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The Sharing Knife is a four novel fantasy/romance series by Lois McMaster Bujold, set in a post-apocalyptic world, with a culture patterned on aspects of the nineteenth century United States, it examines the tension between the two cultures: the magical/traditionalist "Lakewalkers", who're fighting an endless war against Eldritch Abominations, and the techno-agricultural "Farmers", who don't believe in those abominations but do believe (falsely) that the Lakewalkers are cannibalistic black mages.
This series contains examples of:
- Animal Theme Naming: Lakewalker 'tent names' (family names) all seem to be those of animals. Redwing, Wolverine, Crow...
- Author Appeal: The angsty, experienced older man/spunky but naive young woman pairing shows up in a number of Bujold's other works, including Falling Free, The Curse of Chalion, and The Hallowed Hunt.)
- Battle Couple: As unlikely as it seems, Fawn has saved Dag's life as often as he's saved hers.
- Bee-Bee Gun: Dag uses groundsense to weaponize a beehive.
- Body Horror: Malices can turn animals into semi-human monstrosities, which they use as slaves and warriors.
- Buried Alive: Fawn
- Charm Person: Lakewalkers tend to do this to Muggles by accident if they're not careful. Malices have an even less pleasant version.
- Convenient Miscarriage: Averted. Fawn's miscarriage did not return her to the status quo, but rather brought on a whole new set of problems, physical, metaphysical and philosophical.
- Cruel Mercy: In Passage, Dag agrees to help the Complete Monster transfer his life to a sharing knife, rather than letting his death be wasted (the greatest of shames to a Lakewalker.) He then makes the private, intimate ceremony a public spectacle for the gawking Muggles.
- Dark Is Not Evil: The rumors about Lakewalker Necromancy are overblown, but their
primaryonly effective blight-bogle slaying weapons are carved from the bones of their dead and empowered by the lives of sacrifices.
- Disability Superpower: Dag's injured hand is apparently part of what stimulated his magic to grow stronger.
- Dysfunctional Family: Fawn's brothers are not really nice boys, her parents tend to be oblivious to tensions bubbling under the surface, and her family in general treats her as an ignorant child. Then she meets Dag's Big Screwed-Up Family, and finds out just how much worse she could have had it.
- The Empath: Just about everyone with Groundsense is this to some degree.
- Empathic Healer: Ground-based healing is stressful stuff.
- Enemy to All Living Things: A sufficiently large malice can kill every animal and plant in a region and leach the life from the soil for a millenium.
- Eternal Sexual Freedom: Played with. Lakewalker women are empowered and sexually liberated. "Farmers" have more Victorian attitudes. The books make no bones about which is healthier.
- False Widow: At the beginning of the series, Fawn claims to be a "grass widow" to explain why she is pregnant and alone. Dag delicately inquires if she knows what a grass widow is. Fawn had thought it meant a woman recently widowed; it really meant a woman in her exact situation, never married but claiming to be widowed in order to escape the stigma of unwed pregnancy.
It seemed she'd told the truth despite herself.
- Fantastic Racism: Across the board. Lakewalkers tend to be more contemptuous, but Farmers balance it out with bouts of superstition-born violence.
- Fantastic Recruitment Drive: Dag theorizes that this is how the ancient sorcerer-lords became a separate caste, by searching out people with groundsense and adding them to the gene pool.
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Lakewalkers are reminiscent of Plains Indians; the farmers of 19th-century American settlers. In fact, even the map closely resembles that of the American Midwest, with the Grace River representing the Ohio River, and so on.
- Famed in Story: Between the number of Malices he has slain and the infamous Battle of Wolf Ridge, Dag is a near-legend among many Lakewalkers.
- Functional Magic: Combination of Force Magic and Nature Magic.
- Handicapped Badass: Even before his ghost hand shows up, Dag uses the Bee-Bee Gun on a gang of harassers with one hand missing and his other arm broken.
- Have You Seen My God?: Lakewalkers believe the gods abandoned them for their part in creating malices, and that they will return to the world when the last malice has been killed. In the meantime, "Absent gods!" is a popular oath.
Fawn: I heard you people don't believe in gods.
Dag: Rather the opposite, in fact.
- Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Lakewalkers tend to be tall by Farmer standards, Dag is taller than average for his people, and Fawn is a genuine runt among hers. When added up the differences prove striking.
- IKEA Erotica: Averted. Attention anyone contemplating writing a sex scene: Please read the first book for multiple examples of how to do it correctly.
- Jerkass: Sunny. Possibly Complete Monster if he was knowingly lying to Fawn to get in her pants.
- Lethal Harmless Powers: Throughout Passage Dag experiments with absorbing the ground from things, and it seems like a harmless way for him to further his magic For Science!. Then he ground-rips a cross-sectional slice from the spinal cord of a man holding Fawn at knifepoint and it becomes a lot less harmless.
- Look on My Works Ye Mighty and Despair: The Lakewalkers were much more advanced societally and technologically in the distant past. Nobody's quite sure what happened, but the legends say that one of their kings tried to achieve Immortality and turned into the first malice, which when killed exploded and rained down other malices across the land.
- Magical Native American: While there isn't any America in this setting to be a native of, the Lakewalkers have similar traits. There's one main difference, though: characters who aren't Jerkasses still get to insult their arrogance.
- Magic by Any Other Name: The Lakewalkers tend to be very insistent that ground is not magic, but have trouble explaining why not.
- Magnetic Hero: Not the actual heroine, Fawn, who only attracts two characters. Rather, it's Dag who attracts twenty-one more through a combination of martial fame, magical ineptitude, and a disregard for tradition.
- The Magocracy: Strongly implied the world of the story was once one of these, before the malices were unleashed and brought it all down.
- The Maiden Name Debate: Lakewalkers use a matrilineal system of naming and inheritance (husband normally takes wife's 'tent' name, and households are passed to the eldest daughter), while farmers use a patrilinal one. As Dag Bluefield (ne Redwing) earned himself a spot in multiple ballads under his prior married name (Dag Wolverine of Leech Lake Camp) this leads to a degree of confusion.
- Maligned Mixed Marriage: Farmer/Lakewalker pairings are looked at askance more often than not by just about everyone, but the latter tend to be rather more dogmatic about the matter. Unlike most cases, there are objective reasons, Lakewalkers need to keep their groundsense (and hence, bloodlines) strong since The World Is Always Doomed, and having sex with Muggles tends to inadvertently Mind Rape them.
- Marionette Master: Both malices and Lakewalkers gone bad.
- Mayfly-December Romance: A mild version; the hero's life expectancy is roughly twice the heroine's and he's already middle-aged (as in, older than her father) when they meet.
Whit Bluefield: "I don't know if he's robbing the cradle, or if she's robbing the grave!"
- Mercy Kill: Sharing can be this, as is slaying mud-men after the malice is killed.
- Mindlink Mates: Lakewalker marriage essentially involves becoming a limited form of this.
- Miss Conception: Sunny tells Fawn she can't get pregnant her first time. She doesn't know if he was lying to get in her pants or if he actually believed it, but either way it's a costly mistake.
- Moody Mount: Dag's "evil" horse Copperhead.
- Mundane Utility: When they're not busy killing malices, Lakewalkers use ground manipulation for all sorts of everyday tasks, to include chasing flies off your horse, or luring fish right into your boat.
- Muggles (Lakewalkers call them all farmers, regardless of their occupation or where they live).
- My Greatest Failure: Twenty years ago in what became known as the Battle of Wolf Ridge; Dag lost all but three of his command, his left hand, and his wife in the space of an hour. It does not help that more than one epic poem/song has been composed about it, and he tends to make himself scarce when one some pup decides to sing one at a celebration.
- Nakama: Most of the cast in Passage end up making one of these.
- No Ontological Inertia: When a malice is killed, its mud-men slaves revert to their animal minds--and then die, trapped in the wrong bodies--and the spell is lifted from any mind-controlled humans who have been enslaved by it, though they may or may not be able to go back to their old selves; though the Ontological Inertia is present in the case of the mud-men/animals, who die slowly, trapped in bodies they do not know how to use.
- Not Brainwashed (Alder, Fawn).
- In the fourth book, half-blood Calla thinks she has magically beguiled Sage into marrying her. When Dag discovers the persuasion, he tells Calla she cast a love spell on a boy that was already in love with her.
- Polyamory: A rare example of a woman married to two husbands. It's not really accepted practice among Lakewalkers, but they have no actual law against it, and the three are happy together, so the rest of the clan just kind of adjusted to it.
- It's also quite clear that the husbands are also married to each other.
- Poor Communication Kills: Setting aside the repeated incidents rooted in rumor caused by quarter-understood glimpses of Lakewalker customs; it is clear that Malices emerging under a farmer town where no one would recognize the signs of them even if they believed such creatures existed is in many ways the most dangerous scenario possible.
- Power Perversion Potential: Used benignly, Lakewalker ground manipulation can greatly enhance sexual encounters. Used unethically, it can "persuade" a reluctant partner into consenting.
- Psychic Radar Groundsense can be used for this. It's more literally lifeforcesense; allowing a practitioner to detect and sense lifeforce around them, from other humans to animals and even the malices.
- Rape Is Love: Averted. To be exact, "Seduction by a Lakewalker is mind raping you into obsession with him or her for the rest of your life." One of the reasons Dag's clan opposes his marriage is that they think he did this to Fawn.
- Rescue Romance: How Fawn and Dag met. Partially averted in that each of them credits the other for killing the malice they were fighting.
- Savvy Guy, Energetic Girl
- Shown Their Work: The Passage riverboats, details about low tech farming.
- Suicide By Eldritch Abomination: Attempted in Dag's backstory. After Dag's first wife died, he passed the Despair Event Horizon and essentially tried to commit suicide by repeatedly going for the kill on every malice he faced. He ended up killing over twenty five, when the most experienced Lakewalker commanders normally rack up maybe five or so in their lifetimes. Many Lakewalkers almost consider him a Physical God by now..
- Swiss Army Appendage: Dag, played fairly realistically in that the attachments take time to switch, are often inferior to regular tools, and cause a lot of physical wear and tear to Dag.
- Virginity Makes You Stupid: Fawn got swept up by romantic feelings during a wedding, making it easy for Sunny to take advantage of her.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Dag uses Charm Person on an Obstructive Bureaucrat near the beginning of Horizons after having taken taken one of his young wards to task for doing it in the previous book. He gets called on it almost immediately. Turns out he was seriously stressed because he thought he was turning into a malice.
- Witch Species: The Lakewalkers think of themselves as one, and use it to justify their arrogance towards the farmers. They're wrong--magic can appear in farmers as well, albeit in rudimentary form.
- Wizards Live Longer: But only about twice as long as "farmers".
- The World Is Always Doomed: In the "staving off disaster" rather than "recycled apocalypse" sense -- if any malice ever goes undetected long enough to go critical, it will wipe out all life and civilization.
- You Will Be Assimilated: Any living thing a malice doesn't "beguile," it "ground-rips," powderizing it and gaining its strength, knowledge, and to a certain degree abilities. A malice that eats lots of humans can plan tactics, a malice that eats bats can fly, and so on. This incidentally justifies the Bishonen Line, as a malice that's eaten many, many animals and has grown to tremendous size is often less dangerous than one that has eaten enough humans to think.