Sheepfarmer's Daughter (The Deed of Paksenarrion, Book 1)
Elizabeth Moon, 1988
Elizabeth Moon, 1988
I love the Baen Free Library. I'd been meaning to read The Deed of Paksenarrion for some time, and was able to download the first part on my laptop for free. Huzzah!
This is exactly what Baen's project is for. I get to try the first book, and if I love it, I track down the rest. And I did love it.
It wasn't tremendously ground-breaking or anything, but it was solid enjoyable D&D-style fantasy, medium magic level, with good action, good description, good characters. I don't need everything to have a twist, i.e. to be fantasy but with (insert odd addition to setting or race here), and it's nice to see a new fantasy that doesn't make me feel like it's trying too hard.
I liked the prologue, which foreshadowed the story with a nicely mythic tone. The first chapter begins in an awkwardly clichéd scene, and if I hadn't been reassured by the prologue, I may not have wanted to read on.
Despite it being fairly obvious the kind of destined hero story we're following here, I enjoyed that Paks wasn't inherently exceptional in this book. She's a solidly talented warrior, and has a good mind for tactics, but she isn't super intelligent, she isn't a super-powerful fighter, etc. She may have more powers in later books, but here I loved that she just did the best she could do, stubbornly and with conviction.
Moon does a similar thing with gender roles here as she did with race relations in her sci-fi. (Reviewed here) She simply decided that problems are the exception, rather than the rule. It was surprising in a good way that Paks isn't special because she's a female warrior, since that's one of many accepted career paths in her country.
I really liked the implication that the religious systems were nicely confusing and complicated. Fantasy worlds where everyone everywhere worships the same pantheon in the same way often feel a bit fake.
(More spoilery, specific criticism follows:)
The amount of death was nicely realistic, considering the story. Moon got herself out of a few possible cliché storylines by killing characters.
One major misstep was ever veering from close third-person on Paks. The author only followed other characters a few times, but I found it grating, patronizing and awful every single time. You can balance chapters among perspectives, but this was poorly done.
I did enjoy Paks rejecting her "blessing" at the end. It seemed in character, and keeps the storyline from veering immediately into destined hero mode. However, I hope that the progression in the next book can manage to be true to her decision without making the entire plot about that struggle. I'm curious to see where the next book will go.
4 Stars - A Really Good Book