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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Deed of Paksenarrion, by Elizabeth Moon

I previously posted on The Speed of Dark, by Elizabeth Moon (The immediately previous link is to the Wikipedia article on Moon. Her home page is here.) which won the 2003 Nebula award (for best science fiction novel), The award was well deserved.

Since I had enjoyed one book by Moon, and it was well written, with good characterization, and dealt with a serious issue (autism), I decided to try another of her books. The library that I am currently using had a paperback, Divided Allegiance (Riverdale, NY: Baen, 1988) available, so I tried it. Two things struck me about this book. First, it is the second part of a trilogy. The first is Sheepfarmer's Daughter -- which Baen has made available in its entirety on-line, published in the same year, and the third is Oath of Gold, published in 1989.

The second thing that struck me is that this book is not science fiction -- it doesn't extrapolate into the future, or examine the past or the present as changed in a way that relates to science. No, the book is fantasy -- sword and sorcery fantasy. It is unusual for a writer to succeed in both genres, even though most bookstores do not distinguish between them. Ursula K. Le Guin is one author who has so succeeded. I guess there are more, but I can't think of any, except Moon. Moon hasn't succeeded as well as Le Guin, but that's not a negative criticism of Moon. Who has?

The three volumes have been combined into The Deed of Paksenarrion (Baen, 1992) which is currently in print. This is a hefty volume, friends. It has 1024 pages, and the type is not especially large. I would like to comment on this book in general. I hope to post about its relationship to Tolkien, its relationship to King Arthur, outline the plot, and consider whether or not this is Christian fiction, in subsequent posts. I will not try to hide plot details in any of these posts, as I usually do.

Paksenarrion is a female warrior. (She is often referred to as Paks in the book.) Most of the time in the book, which covers a few years of her life, is about her life in the military. Moon, herself, has been a U. S. Marine, so that shouldn't be surprising. There are details of military life, and military campaigns, a-plenty. They include training in swords and other weapons, troop movements, and disposal of booty. Moon writes about details. When the troops camp, latrine placement is important. Food and supplies don't appear magically. Horses and mules must be cared for.

Paksenarrion does not fall in love, or have sexual relations, with anyone, throughout the entire book, except for an attempted rape early in her military career, and a completed rape (more on that in a later post) near the end of the book. She had chances -- on p. 191, she thinks about how Saben, now dead, had wanted to be her lover.

The Deed of this female warrior is to find and establish a king in Lyonya. This is not just a military operation, but a spiritual one. All of Paksenarrion's training is needed to accomplish her deed.

The book generally presents clear divisions or choices between good and evil, and Paksenarrion is always on the side of good.

One way in which the book could have been made better is by the inclusion of maps. There is a map for the first part, but it doesn't have Lyonya on it, nor several other important places found in the second and third parts.

There are two other related books, at least one a prequel, but I haven't read them, and the trilogy works as a unit.

I found the book to be a compelling read, and I am glad I read it. Thanks for reading!

* * * * *

Addendum, December 22, 2008. The author, Elizabeth Moon, has recently posted a short essay on the different kinds of magic in the Paksenarrion books.

July 5, 2015. I have just re-read the Deed of Paksenarrion trilogy, and still think it's a fine work. I have previously read, and posted on, Moon's Liar's Oath and Surrender None. I have discussed the question of whether Deed is a Christian novel, or not, and posted on Biblical morals in the books. Moon, herself, has written about the all-too-popular Game of Thrones works, and I posted about that, linking to her reaction.


Weekend Fisher said...

I read the Paks trilogy quite awhile back. It's definitely heavily indebted to both Tolkien and the New Testament, though my impression was that "Gird" was a bit like the Jesus Seminar's Jesus. No doubt that "Paks" (Pax) was a female Christ-figure, 3-day redemptive suffering and all that.

For all that I thought it was a great read.

Martin LaBar said...

Or maybe Gird is supposed to be a saint. Thanks!

Mirtika said...

I bought book one--Sheepfarmer's Daughter--some while ago, but never read it.

Your review makes me want to get to it sooner, rather than "eventually."

Thanks, Martin.


Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Mir!

Jorgon Gorgon said...

Perhaps I am too late for the conversation, but, as they say, better late than never! Just wanted to point out several more authors that have succeeded in both fantasy and SF: C.J.Cherryh and Jack Vance (one of the founders of science-fantasy subgenre).


Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Jorgon Gorgon. I've read little Cherryh, but I expect you are right about her (?). Vance I know, and you are right. Lois McMaster Bujold is another who has succeeded in both genres. I don't think anyone quite approaches Le Guin, though.

Anonymous said...

David Drake and DAvid Weber are both Baen authors who have been very sucessful in hard science fiction and fantasy. Both have a large number of books avaiable for free on the Baen downloadable library.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for the tip, Anonymous.