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Elizabeth Moon – Sheepfarmer’s Daughter

October 6, 2010

98. Sheepfarmer’s Daughter by Elizabeth Moon (1988)
The Deed of Paksenarrion, Book 1

Read By: Jennifer Van Dyck
Length: 15 h 49 min (512 pages)

Genre: Military Fantasy

Started: 31 July 2010
Finished: 17 August 2010

Where did it come from? From the publishers for review.
Why do I have it? I generally like girls-in-the-military type novels, fantasy or not, so I was hoping for new series to love.

Paks joins the army,
and finds she has skills that she
never knew she had.

Summary: Sheepfarmer’s Daughter is the first book in Elizabeth Moon’s “The Deed of Paksenarrion” trilogy. Paksenarrion is the titular sheepfarmer’s daughter, a young woman who wants something more than to marry her father’s neighbor and become a farmer’s wife in her small rural village. Fleeing from an argument with her father, she runs to the next village, where a patrol from a Duke’s company of mercenaries has been sent to do some recruiting. Paksenarrion – or Paks, as she prefers to be called – immediately signs up, preferring the life of a soldier to that of a wife.

Paks enters into training right away, and she swiftly proves herself with her fighting ability. However, she must still work to become accustomed to the ways and mores of mercenary life, particularly after an incident with a fellow soldier leaves her on trial for her life. Although she’s soon exonerated, she eventually comes to realize that the soldiering life is not quite what she’d expected… particularly in a mercenary company that fights for money rather than out of noble sentiment.

Paksenarrion’s first real test comes when she and two companions are separated from the rest of their unit when the city in which they had been staying comes under attack by the forces of the Honeycat. He is a warlord who lacks the honor of Paks’s commanders – he is brutal, ruthless, and allied with those who turn to dark gods in order to work terrible magics. Paks and her friends must make a desperate cross-country journey, evading the Honeycat’s forces, in order to warn the rest of their allies and hopefully save their friends. But they may not be entirely alone… for it turns out that Paks may have powers even she never suspected.

Review: I do not mean to make sweeping generalizations about books and authors and gender, but for most of the course of this book, I was convinced that Elizabeth Moon was a pseudonym for another (male) fantasy author who wanted to try his hand at writing a story with a heroine rather than a hero. Not because it’s military fantasy per se – I’ve read excellent military fantasy written by women – but because so much of the emphasis is on the fighting, and the training, and the troop movements, and relatively little attention is paid to other types of description, character development, or plot pacing. Upon checking Elizabeth Moon’s bio, I saw that she had in fact been an officer in the marines, which goes a long way to reconcile the disconnect I felt. Rather than being an issue of male vs. female, it’s an issue of military vs. civilian; and make no mistake, this is a book about the military written by someone in the military.

…and perhaps primarily geared for an audience that is also in the military, if my thoroughly civilian reaction is any guide. I found the military stuff to be extremely dry going, and almost all there is in this book is military stuff. Long swaths of the book are spent with Paks’s company training, drilling, marching somewhere, drilling some more, maybe fighting someone, marching somewhere else, digging latrines, and training some more, and I found it slow going, and nearly impossible to get involved in the story. It certainly didn’t help that Paks is essentially the only character that is developed beyond a name and maybe a single identifying feature, and even she is kind of blandly, solidly good at everything she does. Even the parts involving magic and Paks’s being potentially gods-touched, which would normally be the parts that I would most gravitate towards, failed to fully hold my interest, since the various religions in Paks’s world are never really developed either.

The audiobook presentation is nicely done; Van Dyck’s an experienced narrator with a very smooth reading style, and not once did I notice her tripping up over the pronunciation of the fairly outlandish names she had to work with. The only problem with the audiobook was that I felt the lack of the map pretty severely; while I don’t enjoy reading descriptions of troop movements at the best of times, it’s at least a little better when I can visualize where they’re going. 2 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Overall, while I suspect the rest of the trilogy is going in a direction more interesting than interminable military training, I don’t feel enough of an attachment to the character or to the plot to pursue this series further. For someone who enjoys military fantasy replete with lots of accurate detail, though, I can see how this book would go over like gangbusters.

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First Line: In a sheepfarmer’s low stone house, high in the hills above Three Firs, two swords hang now above the mantelpiece.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 6, 2010 3:19 pm

    Hmm. I downloaded this for free from the Suvudu Library, because I’d always heard Moon’s name being thrown around but never really looked at her work. This might be just the right kind of fantasy for my brother, being ex-Air Force and loving military history.

    • October 13, 2010 9:46 am

      Omni – Definitely give it to your brother and see what he thinks; he might also like Talyn by Holly Lisle, which is excellent military fantasy, although a very different take on things.

  2. ela21 permalink
    October 12, 2010 4:11 pm

    Hasn’t Moon co-written a few books with Anne McCaffrey? I read a lot of McCaffrey though have tended not to read her latest stuff, particularly when one gets the impression that her name is on it for the recognition factor (might be maligning the collaborative effort involved).

    • October 13, 2010 9:47 am

      Ela – Maybe? I actually haven’t read any Anne McCaffrey yet, and although I see a lot of fantasy collaborations, I haven’t read many (any?) yet.

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