I read this book about 18-Nov-2003. I've read this book before. The book is copyright 1989. This note was last modified Monday, 05-May-2014 22:12:45 PDT.
This is book 1 of the "Steerswoman" series.
This note contains spoilers for the book.
I didn't recognize it at first, but I have read this before. I thought I had. Nice background; "steerswomen" are an order of knowledge seekers and distributors. They also do charts, and navigation, on boats. It appears to be a magic-using world; but there are hints that it's technology behind the scenes, and the wizards are holding out. On the other hand, there really are gnomes and dragons.
A very fine first novel. I think she puts over the habits of thought of the steerswomen very well. They're infinitely curious, and very methodical, and first-rate observers (I almost smell a small bit of "fair witness" there). The wizards remain mysterious, but that's clearly deliberate. And the wizard hierarchy clearly isn't even what they themselves have thought.
Mostly nice people, too. Even the wizards we meet (at least three) aren't actually evil incarnate, that we can tell. Perhaps a little ruthless; but Rowan and Bel are quite ruthless themselves, so that's not a distinguishing feature.
Interesting hints, somewhat between the lines, about the terraforming plans for the planet, too. The Outskirts move. The Face people live on the utter fringes, and their goats destroy the native life somewhat. The real Outskirts follow, and destroy it more. They consciously destroy it; they scatter their dead in pieces because it destroys the alien grass where pieces are put. And eventually the green, terrestrial, species move in behind them.