The saga of Rowan the Steerswoman continues in this excellent blend of science and fantasy, as Rowan continues her quest to stop master wizard Slado from starting a war that could destroy the world.

Two sentences in an old logbook have led Rowan and her companion, the Outskirter Bel, to the small seaport town of Donner, where they search for clues to Slado's past and his current motives. A wizard died there, mysteriously, shortly before Slado disappeared, and Rowan is sure there's a connection. She sets about seeking answers but soon discovers she may be asking the wrong questions, and the current wizard, Jannik, will do anything to stop her from interfering in wizards' business. What was a simple investigative journey turns into a dangerous mission, one from which Rowan might not return.

Kirstein writes with humor and verve, creating a world in which science fact and fiction blend seamlessly with tales of wizards and dragons. Rowan is beautifully characterized; it's easy to get caught up in her joy at new discoveries and her fierce sense of justice for the wronged. Suspenseful plotting and plenty of surprises keep things moving right along, with an evenhanded mix of characterization and plotting that leans too heavily on neither.

As Rowan and her companions draw ever nearer to their goal, the tempo of the story picks up, leaving the reader breathless for another installment. Readers should definitely read this series in order to absorb the powerful impact of the tale, but there is also an intriguing and fairly self-contained mystery here for those new to Kirstein's world. Either way, the simple, straightforward beauty of Kirstein's storytelling is not to be missed. (Sep., 389 pp., $14.95)
Reviewed by: 
Jen Talley Exum