Original Publication Year: 1988
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.