Sunday, January 29, 2012

Books: The Deed of Paksenarrion - Sheepfarmer's Daughter review

One of the oldest tropes in fantasy is the farmer who leaves the pastoral life to become a great hero. Whether it's Samwise Gamgee, Kal-El, Rand Al'Thor, or Luke Skywalker, there's nothing quite like an inexperienced (but earnest) protagonist to get viewer sympathy (and to justify reams of expository dialogue from other characters). "The Deed of Paksenarrion," a series of epic fantasy novels by Elizabeth Moon, not only embraces the cliché, but brings it to life with pathos and depth.

In the first part of the story, "Sheepfarmer's Daughter," we follow Paksenarrion Dorthensdaughter as she runs away from home to join a mercenary company. Completely guileless but honest and courageous, Paks goes through a number of trials and tribulations even before she reaches her first battle. Without giving too much away, Paks' transformation into a legendary hero involves cruel enemies, loyal friends, and a mysterious discovery.

Author Elizabeth Moon served in the U.S. Marine Corps as an officer in the 1960s, so some of Paks' training is obviously cribbed from USMC Basic and OCS school (one incident early on in the book is uncomfortably close to real-life military sex scandals). Aside from Paks, who has plot protection, no one is safe from death in battle, which gives the proceedings a constant sense of danger and makes for some gut-wrenching scenes. Moon has said that Paks was an attempt to portray a D&D paladin realistically:

Elizabeth Moon, not gaming herself, heard some people playing "Paladins" (Holy warriors in the service of a god) and doing so very poorly. Her reaction was of course that "such a person wouldn't ''act'' like that"... and in thinking about what they ''would'' act like, Paksenarrion was born.

The book is available free from Baen's online library, though I recommend the Audible audiobook version narrated by Jennifer Van Dyck for the full experience. It's expensive, but for a traditional heroic epic like "The Deed of Paksenarrion, it's a bit more fun to listen to a storyteller than it is to read it.


At 12:38 PM, Blogger Kevin said...

That was an excellent trilogy with one caveat: Book 2 in places read a lot like a D&D replay - "My 7th-level mage defeats your 4th-level Bugbear." But the third book is absolutely the payoff worth the trip.


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