All three novels in this epic trilogy, Sheepfarmer’s Daughter, Divided Allegiance, and Oath of Gold, appear in the omnibus edition, Deed of Parksenarrion.
Paksenarrion Dorthansdotter, headstrong daughter of a sheep farmer on the north edge of the kingdom, dreams of being a hero out of legend, of fame and magic swords and great deeds. When her father tells her she must marry the neighbor’s son, she runs away from home to join the mercenary company her cousin told her about. But military life and warfare aren’t anything like her daydreams…yet she holds to both her duty and her dreams. In the end, she pays the price that heroism demands and becomes the paladin who saves a kingdom…but the journey is longer and darker than she ever imagined. She has to confront and overcome her strengths as well as her weaknesses…and her triumph redeems more than herself.
Originally written as one long story, it was broken into three for practical reasons when first published. Sheepfarmer’s Daughter takes her from the farm through three fighting seasons as a mercenary in Duke Phelan’s Company. Divided Allegiance describes her departure from Phelan and her training to become a paladin of Gird….a journey that ends in disaster. Oath of Gold finishes her story of recovery and redemption.
Published back in 1988/9, the three books that comprise the Deed of Paksenarrion saga are Elizabeth Moon’s earliest works, and while I respect them, I think of them in much the same way I think of Patricia Briggs’ Sianim novels – when you’re spoiled by an author’s later works (I have an unholy love of Moon’s space odysseys), it’s hard to not to find the earlier books lacking in some respect. For me, Deed of Paksenarrion suffered in comparison.
That’s not to say that this series isn’t worth reading, because these are the books that rightfully launched Elizabeth Moon on the scene, earning her the 1989 Compton Crook Award (for Sheepfarmer’s Daughter). The Paksennarion series is epic high fantasy and while it undeniably includes classic fantasy tropes – a girl running off to join a mercenary company, not to mention elves and orcs – Moon brings a unique texture of her own to the genre, in her attention to legal and economic detail and her peerless portrayal of military life from the ground up.
The gritty, mud-in-your-teeth reality of soldiering is Moon’s bread and butter, and I absolutely, utterly, and completely love how she does it, be it in her fantasy sagas or her space works. Moon’s military background rings true across this series – from drilling formations, to the rub of experienced soldiers against raw recruits, to inanities of supply and procurement, Moon gives us a soldier’s view of the world and it is the most finely wrought, realistic take on warriors I have ever seen in a fantasy cycle. Period.
In terms of the larger world-building, fantasy epics usually indulge in grand info-dumping to lay out the overall scheme of the fantasy landscape, but Moon defies tradition in that she builds her world strictly from Pak’s perspective. From a low level soldier, to a person of growing rank and political importance, Pak’s world fills in around her and it makes for a refreshing lack of info-dumping throughout the series.
There are certain hallmarks of medieval life that spring up – the inevitable inns and forest rangers – but Moon’s take on the various gods is entirely her own, and it makes for a fascinating society of vying religious orders. The gods play a distant yet vital role, and Pak’s many trials take on the larger context of tests of faith as she later endeavors to become a holy warrior.
Without giving too much away, over the course of this saga Paks hits rock bottom in truly devastating fashion. Moon makes choices I have never, ever seen before in a fantasy, especially not one that features a heroine and was written in the 80’s. Paks journey is absolutely unique: I suspect her larger arc is based on the military ethos of breaking someone down to build them back up again – the holy tenant of boot camp training – and as Paks over the series is called to a higher form of service, thus her trials are that much harder, and they break her in brutal fashion. I was completely on board with the idea of a god cruelly tempering a human to prepare her to serve him, and Pak’s painful road to redemption is the heart and soul of the last book. The emotional impact of her journey is gut wrenching – Moon does not pull a single punch – and the ending is all the more meaningful for it.
And so I like this cycle, and respect the hell out of it, but there is just some indefinable quality that prevents me from falling head over heels in love with it. I think it’s a purely a subjective response – and yet I’m someone who loves this author in particular and fantasy in general. So if you try this book and find it not to your taste, I would encourage you with every fiber in my being to try another of Elizabeth Moon’s books – Speed of Dark or Trading in Danger – because this is one author not be missed. And if you find you love this cycle to pieces, you’re in luck – Moon is currently working on a series that takes place directly after the events of this trilogy, and the second book, Kings of the North, is just about to come out.
Deed of Paksenarrion is Elizabeth Moon’s defining fantasy cycle, a series that has rightfully earned her legions of fans – and these were only her first books!
Byrt Grade: A-
As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…
The Deed of Paksenarrion is a great addition to any library and personally I found it a spectacular way to be introduced to a highly talented author. While reading this omnibus I found it hard to imagine why I had not read this series earlier. While not groundbreaking fantasy it was a great read. I really enjoyed reading about a strong female character who was not helpless and when you consider Moon’s personal experience as a Marine you can not help but think that some of the instances and individuals in the book may have been apart of Moon’s past. Highly entertaining and recommended.
Elizabeth Moon writes entertaining and detailed military scenes and uses a deft hand for painting a typical fantasy world. The plot is varied and thorough. It’s the characters that bring me back to this book time and again, however. I feel like I could walk through the streets of her cities and recognize everyone. I want to pick up a sword and go have adventures every time I read this book. I can’t think of enough good things to say. If you love fantasy, read this book. I can’t possibly articulate what makes it so good as well as the book itself can.
I did not finish this book, but not because it was bad. It was, in fact, a very interesting book, but there was a major flaw that kept me from finishing. The story of Paksenarrion, or “Paks” as the reader comes to know her, is essentially a good one. She’s a mistreated daughter who runs away and joins the army … and that’s pretty much all that happens in the first book (this particular edition is three books crammed into one volume). One reviewer on Amazon describes the book as “relentlessly linear” and I’m inclined to agree…I like Paks as a character, but her story just wasn’t told in a way that suits me.