The Steerswoman is the first book of a series, focusing on the explorations of a steerswoman. The steerswomen seek after knowledge wherever they go: learning about local customs, drawing maps, and passing on their knowledge. If a steerswoman asks you a question, you must answer; if you do not, they will place you under a ban, and no steerswoman will ever answer your questions again. Rowan has been a steerswoman long enough that it’s baked into her through and through, and she loves her work — even as it begins to get her into trouble, even though she doesn’t understand why.
This is a book you need to have patience with, because the details come to the reader slowly. I really enjoyed reading it at the same time as my wife and fitting together what we’d noticed (example: the gum-soled shoes that sailors and steerswomen wear!) but it’s still a little frustrating to watch Rowan’s slow progress. Readers have a bit of an advantage on Rowan, though, so it’s also fun to try to be ahead and figure out where things are going.
Rowan isn’t the only main character; the other is Bel, an Outskirter warrior who upends some of Rowan’s assumptions as she comes along for the ride. They complement each other well, and it’s fun to watch them play off each other. I wish we had more information about Bel and her motivations, though; I don’t doubt her interest in helping Rowan, but she’s gone to a lot of effort by now, and some of it before she really got to know Rowan. I’m hoping for more about her in the next book! (Which, since it’s called The Outskirter’s Secret, I suspect is exactly what will be served up.)