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review 2015-04-02 01:38
A New Sub-genre For Me: Military Fantasy
Sheepfarmer's Daughter - Elizabeth Moon

Original Publication Year: 1988

Genre(s): Fantasy

Series: The Deed of Paksenarrion #1

Awards: Compton Crook Award

Format: Audio (from Audible)

Narrated by: Jennifer Van Dyck


This is, perhaps arguably, a modern classic of the fantasy genre.  I call it a classic because I feel like it shows up on people’s lists as a favorite especially amongst all the epic fantasy that was being produced in the 1980’s and 1990’s from Terry Brooks, David Eddings and many others besides.  I’ve had it on my TBR for so long, it got a place on my 100 Books Project List as I felt it was important that I read it.  In the end, I found this book quite odd and somewhat disappointing though I did like it.


The first thing I would characterize as unusual was that this was my first experience with what I would call “military fantasy”.  Sure, a lot of fantasy deals with war but this book reminded me of a Robert Heinlein novel (like Starship Troopers) transplanted to a generic European-type fantasy setting. The military structure is basically exactly like the modern American military except with swords and horses and the person in ultimate charge being a Duke.  There’s a boot camp and companies with sergeants and captains; there are non-commissioned officers and commissioned officers, a mess etc….


It is into this military environment that the sheepfarmer’s daughter, Paksenarrion or Paks, runs because she dreams of a life as a soldier.  She joins a reputable mercenary company that allows women and begins her life as a soldier.  This first volume details Paks first 2-3 years in the company and how ever-so-slowly, day by day, her star begins to rise and it becomes apparent that Paks is something special. 


The second unusual thing, is alluded to in that last sentence.  This is a VERY detailed and rather mundane narrative.  The reader is with Paks from day one of her training and, it seems like, every day after that for the following three years.  It gives a very clear picture of the life of a soldier – the training, the first battle, methodically looting a city, the death of comrades.  There are a few fantastical happenings but the story seems to concentrate on the everyday details.  Sometimes I found this very interesting and other times I found it dragged.  The prose is also pretty straightforward and matter-of-fact which fits the military focus and also lends to the air of mundanity.


Everything I’ve mentioned thus far was fine and gave the book a unique flair.  The methodical approach to the storytelling dragged at times but that wasn’t a major problem.  A major problem was that the characters, even Paks felt very shallow.  Very few of the secondary characters in the book are fleshed out in any real way and it was somewhat difficult to keep track of the rotating, basically identical-except-for-rank fellow soldiers.  Paks herself is simple and straightforward with very little interest in anything beyond soldiering -she’s not interested in men, she’s not interested in religion, she’s not even that interested in the other cultures that they encounter.  I in turn wasn’t that interested in her and that is what ended up making this just an okay read. 


FINAL VERDICT:  A unique, very detailed-oriented military fantasy that I ended up having trouble engaging with because of lackluster, generic characters.  I’m not sure I’ll pick up the sequels.  3 out of 5 Stars.

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review 2014-11-14 00:00
Sheepfarmer's Daughter
Sheepfarmer's Daughter - Elizabeth Moon Started out liking it. Strong female character, but fairly standard fantasy fare. And I was disappointed with the later books.
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review 2014-08-25 15:23
Sheepfarmer's Daughter - Elizabeth Moon
This is one of those books that I really wish I had read as a kid/teenager.

It's a very "old skool" military fantasy, with the exception that the bad-ass warrior hero happens to be a heroine.   The narration starts sometime in the future and tells the story of Paksennarion, a headstrong girl who joined a mercenary outfit to escape an arranged marriage.   Along the way we get a lot of training, details of camp and marching life, pretty good descriptions of war and pillaging, and discover that Paks has some sort of magical talent or ability.   We're not sure how the magic system works, because Paks herself isn't sure of what's going on, but as this is the first part of a three part story, we might learn more later.   

The characterizations weren't really strong, but it's not a character driven novel, in my opinion.   The world building is solid, the plot was good, although it did get a little bit dry/slower with the training (and other) narratives.   To be honest, I thought it was interesting and did not make me feel like I was slogging through it.  
I think the biggest weakness is Paks, herself, which while being headstrong, is painfully naive and is a passive character much of the time and could be classified (pretty solidly) as a Mary Sue.
It is refreshing to have a non-heteronormative character (she's asexual) who is simultaneously breaking gender norms, and that there is a little bit regarding gender norms in the novel itself (this mercenary company, or at least the land where it is located does not consider women mercenaries to be noteworthy, whereas later they do do go to another land where it is unusual).

I can see why many people didn't love this book, but I really liked it, and will probably get around to reading/listening to the rest of the books in this... book.

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review 2013-08-27 00:00
Sheepfarmer's Daughter - Elizabeth Moon I read this based on a recommendation from a Goodreads member. I'm sorry to say that I wasn't converted. The book is decent, but not especially interesting; most of it is things we've seen before. Paksenarrion (the protagonist) is likeable, but much of the book is a fairly mechanical look at her induction into a mercenary corps. There's quite a lot of detail, but much of it is shallow - it reads a bit like someone inserting research they've done into how armies work.

This book was written as part of a much longer work, and it shows, By the end of the 450 or so pages, I felt like I'd just finished an incredibly long prologue. Unfortunately, I'm not tempted to read the bulk of the book.

All in all, pleasant, readable, but not particularly striking.
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2013-05-23 00:00
Review: Sheepfarmer's Daughter (The Deed of Paksenarrion, #1)
Sheepfarmer's Daughter - Elizabeth Moon

I wanted to like this book, but it just did not work (for me).


Although the writing is thorough and descriptive, most of the problems I have with this book come down to its third person (sort of) limited narration. Most of the time, details enhance the story and help build the world, but sometimes they're repetitive and yet you still don't get to know much about the world the story is set in. The latter applies to this story. There are a few scenes where magic played an important role like the Honey Cat's capture or Paks' mysterious pendant, but you don't find out how magic system(s) work, not because it can't be explained, but because the main character doesn't know herself.


Another thing that kept me from getting into this story was the characters and how interchangeable they were. They had no personality or personal traits to separate one character from another. Paks, as a main character, as a lowly soldier in the ranks, doesn't know much of anything, let alone important things, like magic. So the reader just has to accept these things, without explanation, as they happen. But I suppose that's the whole point since Elizabeth Moon wanted to write a story from the POV of a soldier.


If it weren't for all the violence and gore that she has to experience, Paks would fit the Mary Sue mold very well. Things just happen to her and she reacts to them, in an appropriate manner or whatever that's appropriate for the situation. A supernatural force just happens to take a liking to her and saves her from death multiple times. NBD.


I know all of these issues can easily be resolved by my reading the rest of the trilogy since Elizabeth Moon wrote the series as one book. And I'll get around to it... eventually.

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