Third time lucky. I had no problems engaging with The Steerswoman on this attempt and enjoyed it as a quick read at the end of my holiday.
No-one may deny a Steerswoman. A Steerswoman (or -man) seeks and shares knowledge, studying the world and poking her nose into whatever interests her. It's a position of respect and it comes at a reasonable price: she cannot refuse to answer any question put to her, and she may not lie. If you refuse her, no Steerswoman will ever answer any question for you again. When Steerswoman Rowan begins enquiring about a certain object, she triggers a chain of events that put her life in danger and push her to the edge of her vows.
I decided early on that this was not traditional fantasy, in spite of the dragons, as upheld by Rowan's increasing reliance on physical and mathematical principles to understand her world (not to mention Willam's 'magic' and its more obvious interpretation). But I'm happy to read a fantasy that embraces the question of whether sufficiently advanced science is distinguishable from magic and explores the evolution of magic into science. I think Kirstein handles the theme well here – along with sufficient finer touches that still feel magical (it took me far longer than it should have to figure out why Rowan would be immune to guard charms).
There's a lot to like here – a very egalitarian society, an intriguingly small world with close horizons (this struck me as soon as I saw the map, and I enjoyed the slow reveal of why this was the case), and of course the interesting set up of knowledge and conflict between the steerswomen/steersmen and the wizards.
I didn't particularly enjoy the prose style, which I think is what I bounced off the first couple of reads – the writing is quite sparse and sometimes choppy, so didn't suck me in on its own merits. However, I enjoyed the characters (although I found the POV swap to Willam very jarring) and the overall tale. I'm in no rush to continue the series, but I do think this is one that's going to grow on me over time and I will pick up the next installment in due course.