Monday, March 12, 2012

The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon

The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon collects a trilogy of novels telling the story of Paksenarrion Dorthansdotter (generally known as “Paks”), a sheepfarmer’s daughter who runs away from home to avoid an unwanted marriage and to pursue her childhood dreams of becoming a paladin of St. Gird. The book is not without its flaws, but take it as strong praise that I was held rapt through all 1,100 pages, spending several days sneaking in a page or twenty whenever possible.

For those without the necessary geeky knowledge base, a paladin is a warrior whose unwavering moral rectitude leads to the divine gift of martial prowess and a smattering of other holy powers -- it’s a mainstay of Dungeons & Dragons. In fact, Moon has admitted that she took inspiration from the character types in D&D. I’m putting this fact out front because it is generally a red flag in fantasy literature -- a novel born of an author’s Dungeons & Dragons game is often a mire of lazy and derivative world-building and blatant Mary Sue-ism. Luckily for everyone, Moon avoids these pitfalls. Her work contains tropes and archetypes that will be familiar to any D&D player or experienced reader of fantasy, but she combines these elements into a unique and fully realized world, fashions a compellingly sympathetic main character, and sends everything hurtling along a propulsive narrative.

There are obvious dangers in focusing on a character who is defined by her righteousness and unwavering moral compass. It’s hard to like a character who is too good. However, the character of Paksenarrion ends up being one of the strongest aspects of this book. Moon does an admirable job writing Paks with a believable naiveté, which makes her more human and vulnerable (and serves as a handy device for the reader to learn more about Moon’s world without overwhelming chunks of exposition). Also, while it’s always clear that Paks is gifted, Moon takes pains to show that Paks develops those gifts through hard work and dedication. Her growth as a warrior is quite satisfying and each milestone feels earned.

Moon missteps occasionally. Some chapters could have been trimmed, some details could have been left out (a genetic defect in the epic fantasy genre that can be traced back to the brace of coneys Sam and Frodo cooked up on their way to Mordor), and the foreshadowing gets a bit strong (I’m tempted to count how many times someone says “Gee, Paks, it’s like you’re gonna be a paladin or something!”). But these are minor quibbles. I’ve done some informal polling of others who’ve read The Deed of Paksenarrion and the standard assessment is “It was pretty good -- after I finished it I tracked down and read every other Elizabeth Moon book I could find.” I bought an eBook copy of the prequel but am saving it until I have the free time an engrossing fantasy epic demands.

~Andrew, Adult Services

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