Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon

I just finished reading books 2 and 3 of the Deed of Paksenarrion.  I found the first book (Sheepfarmer's Daughter) several years ago and really enjoyed it, as it's a female led military fantasy story.  The magic is few and far between and most of the book is about Paksennarion's military career, which consists of her joining a company of soldiers and getting trained up to private level.

Paks isn't a supremely talented soldier, she's good because she trains hard.  She's not the most popular in the company.  She's ordinary.  I liked this.  She's not the only woman there either.  If I remember correctly there is one scene where she's nearly raped, but the important thing is that it's not gratiutious and it's told from Paks' point of view. It's about her.  She's also in a relationship with another woman, without any fuss being made of it.  I like that too.

In the second book (Divided Allegiance), Pak's leaves the company because she's uncomfortable with the work they are hired to do, there's too much cruelty for her taste.  She agonises over what to do, because her life is with the company and she respects their leader, the Duke.  She gets permission to leave, and sets out on her own, encounters some elves, nearly gets killed, and ends up training to be a Girdsman.  Things go wrong, she gets tortured (but it's not sexual) she loses her courage, and leaves the safety of the Girdsman's Grange in search of work.  She remains her ordinary self and slowly recovers.

I like the ordinariness of her.  I like that these books are so focused on the military life, they feel grounded.  It's a good change from fluffy fantasy stories where the hero is a man and is destined to become the greatest in the land.  That's boring to me now.

The third book (Oath of Gold) falls down a bit for me, because by this time Paks has become a Paladin, an instrument of the Gods with special powers, and she is no longer ordinary, she even speaks differently.  So the appeal (for me) is lost a bit.  Nonetheless I finished it and enjoyed it, mostly.

I've just found out there are more books in Paks' world but gods almighty that is no an easy website to understand.  The wikipedia page is much more useful.  Interestingly, the wiki page includes the following information provided by Moon on the development and basic ideas for the series:

"Source material, as well as inspiration, for the Paksenarrion books might be of interest to some.  The various legal systems are taken from the following:
F. S. Lear's Treason in Roman and Germanic Law (specifically for the dwarf and gnome races), K. F. Drew's The Lombard Laws and The Burgundian Code, and other sources on medieval law, including a difficult-to-find translation of the Visigothic Code by A. Wilhelmsen.
The development of the Code of Gird derives from the development of "barbarian" legal codes adapting Roman Law, shifts in English law during and after the Norman Conquest, and the development of "human rights-based" changes in law in and following the Enlightenment.
Different city-states and nation-states were given different "balances" of the source material. Military history sources for both military science and military psychology included HerodotusXenophonThucydidesCaesar, and other classical sources, Conan Doyle's novel The White CompanyTuchman's A Distant MirrorSherman's Memoirs, and many others.
Village life and crafts, in outline and detail, are taken from multiple sources on medieval/early Renaissance crafts and life, including the Surtees Society's collection of historical sources for that period.
Further influences on the social and political aspects came from cultural anthropology sources. Historical sources suggesting the development of a paladin character ranged from Xenophon and Caesar (on the military side) and PlatoAristotle, and Plutarch (for both military and general character consideration) to the "Chanson de Roland" and the Grail legends, with side journeys into other cultures (ScandinavianAmerindianIslamic).
The history of Christianity and especially the incorporation of local heroes into "saint" roles (Joan of Arc in France, others in many other Catholic countries) provided historical background for development of Paksenarrion, Gird, and other hero-saints in that fictional universe.
The inspiration for "doing a paladin right" was the definition of paladin outlined in the D&D game; the specific character of Paksenarrion derived from historical figures (including Joan of Arc) and a mix of individuals known to the author.
The specific character of Gird-farmer had roots in historical and fictional accounts of peasant/slave/worker uprisings; Gird-legend shared characteristics of several legendary (mythical and fictional) folk and religious heroes.
Questions explored in the books include the nature of the military mind, the character of the good soldier and the good commander, the essential characteristics of a hero and a paladin, the potential conflicts between what it takes to be a good soldier and what it takes to be a great hero, relationship between a paladin and his/her co-religionists (clergylaity) and between a paladin and those not of the same belief, the source of a paladin's "commission" (e.g., who decides that someone is a paladin? how is that marked?), the essential characteristics of a hero-saint, the internal characteristics and outward influences that shape a hero-saint's actions and effects, the ways that subsequent generations redefine the meaning of earlier events and how that interpretation influences their actions."

I like that Moon has been so thorough in her research.  I think I might try and pick up some of the other books in Paks world.

Is it worth reading any of Moon's sci-fi stories?

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