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review 2017-03-10 22:52
Oath of Gold / Elizabeth Moon
Oath of Gold - Elizabeth Moon

I spent the first two chapters of this book crying.  Why, you ask?  Because the second book left Paks in such a hopeless, lonely place and in the first couple of chapters Master Oakhollow takes her in and is SO KIND.  He demonstrates a kindness that’s often missing in our world today.

 

I had difficulty setting the book down—I really wanted to know what happened.  But I just couldn’t give it 5 stars, despite these two factors.  Once she was healed, Paks went right back to being a Mary Sue character, who could do no wrong and could see her way through all kinds (and I mean ALL kinds) of troubles without getting bent out of shape.  This despite assurances to her on several occasions that she is a better Girdsman now, because she knows how helpless people feel.  Plus she’s gone all religious and holy in the cult of Gird.  For a girl who used to fight & cuss in Duke Phelan’s troops, it was odd to see her go so far to the other end of the spectrum.

 

Having said that, Moon creates a fascinating world—I would have loved to spend more time with the elves and gnomes and know a bit more about their societies.  The ending, although okay, just kind of petered out.  Rather like a fairy tale, when they just say that everyone lived happily ever after.  A bit more detail in the resolution would have made me feel better about it.

 

All in all, this was a very enjoyable trilogy and would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys high fantasy.

 

Book number 249 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

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review 2017-03-10 17:07
The Gate to Women's Country / Sheri S. Tepper
The Gate to Women's Country - Sheri S. Tepper

Tepper's finest novel to date is set in a post-holocaust feminist dystopia that offers only two political alternatives: a repressive polygamist sect that is slowly self-destructing through inbreeding and the matriarchal dictatorship called Women's Country. Here, in a desperate effort to prevent another world war, the women have segregated most men into closed military garrisons and have taken on themselves every other function of government, industry, agriculture, science and learning.

The resulting manifold responsibilities are seen through the life of Stavia, from a dreaming 10-year-old to maturity as doctor, mother and member of the Marthatown Women's Council. As in Tepper's Awakeners series books, the rigid social systems are tempered by the voices of individual experience and, here, by an imaginative reworking of The Trojan Woman that runs through the text. A rewarding and challenging novel that is to be valued for its provocative ideas.

 

Very much a product of its time! Post-nuclear war, societies are sorting themselves out and we get to witness two ways of dealing with things. One is very, very matriarchal, the other over-the-top patriarchal. As I began reading, I started with the impression that I was exploring a very patriarchal set-up. Fooled me! Yes, the women and men live (mostly) separately and the women must present sons to the warriors to be raised in warrior culture. But women control almost everything else (medicine, agriculture, trading, education, etc.). Not very religious, but any references present are based on Greek mythology. Sex is viewed as healthy & desirable as long as disease is prevented.

On the other extreme is a community apparently organized much like the polygamist culture in Bountiful, B.C. and in Utah. Older men appropriate all the women & girls for their own “harems,” leaving the young men frustrated and angry. Sex is viewed as an evil necessity, but still avidly desired and “religiously” pursued. Very religious society, based on the Judaeo-Christian model.

Although the author does seem to favour the matriarchal culture, my impression from the book is that she wanted to show that NEITHER extreme is desirable and that both fail in crucial aspects. Perhaps influenced by Margaret Atwood’s excellent The Handmaid’s Tale as well as other post-apocalyptic novels of the 70s and 80s. A bit dated today, but worth reminding ourselves that we can co-operate together to run society fairly.

Book 247 in my Science Fiction & Fantasy Reading Project.

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review 2017-03-10 17:06
Divided Allegiance / Elizabeth Moon
Divided Allegiance - Elizabeth Moon

Paksenarrion, once a sheepfarmer's daughter, now a veteran warrior, meets new challenges as she breaks up a robber gang, dispells an ancient evil possessing an elvish shrine and is accepted for training at an academy for knights. Clearly, a high destiny awaits her.

 

The biggest impression that this book made on me was thinking, “We still don’t treat our wounded veterans very well.” Paksenarrion, the golden girl, leaves her fighting unit for a while to do advanced training. Being the Mary Sue character that she is, she shines at all of it, and is ear-marked to become a Paladin of Gird until she is captured & tortured. Suddenly, her fellow fighters & superiors are questioning her future, even questioning her past dedication to her profession.

Moon was a Marine, and her service experience colours the Paksenarrion saga. Not nearly as dark as Glen Cook’s Black Company series (she obviously had a less traumatic experience than he did), her portrayals of camaraderie in the ranks are pretty sunny until late in this book, when Paks has what we would call post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and things get pretty bleak for her. As things still are for returned veterans who are suffering, making this still a rather timely book.

The extra portions of angst for Paks actually make this a better book than the first installment, where she could do no wrong. It is much more interesting & engrossing. No question about whether I will read book 3—it is already in my book bag as my next “work break” book.

Book 248 of my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

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review 2017-02-28 15:34
The Last Coin / James Blaylock
The Last Coin - James P. Blaylock

Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Twenty-nine of the coins are already in the possession of the unpleasant Pennyman. The last coin is all that stands between the world and doom, and it now belongs to ordinary Andrew Vanbergen, owner of an inn where dark magic and bizarre heroism are about to intertwine.

 

I’m glad that there are plenty of readers out there who appreciated this book, because it was not my cuppa tea. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this was supposed to be humourous (kind of like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), but I find that I often struggle with humour on the page.

I think this would be an excellent TV show—the main character Andrew bumbling along like Maxwell Smart and his wife Rose herding him in the right direction just like Agent 99 (young folks, go to YouTube and search Get Smart!) It seemed to me that watching the action and being able to appreciate the story’s physical aspects would have probably made me laugh.

In so many ways, I feel this story had potential. I mean collecting Judas Iscariot’s 30 pieces of silver and gaining power from them? That’s an awesome concept. Dan Brown could do something with that (whether that’s good or bad, I leave to your judgment) and I was disappointed in Blaylock’s lack of ambition with such an excellent idea. Treated seriously, this could have been an excellent fantasy thriller. It would also have benefitted, IMHO, from a focus on the villain of the piece, Mr. Pennyman, instead of Andrew. Andrew was such a bumbling idiot, that I longed for a competent narrator. Pennyman would have served, as would have Andrew’s wife, Rose, or Rose’s Aunt Naomi. Nowhere in the narrative did I discern why Rose had actually married Andrew or why she continued to put up with him. If ever a woman had a clear reason to divorce, I would say Rose did.

Needless to say, despite the fact that this is the first book in a series, I won’t be continuing on. I am uncertain whether I will even be willing to try other titles by this author.

This is book number 246 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

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review 2017-02-17 21:38
Sheepfarmer's Daughter / Elizabeth Moon
Sheepfarmer's Daughter - Elizabeth Moon

Paksenarrion — Paks for short — is somebody special. She knows it, even if nobody else does yet. No way will she follow her father's orders to marry the pig farmer down the road. She's off to join the army, even if it means she can never see her family again.

And so her adventure begins... the adventure that transforms her into a hero remembered in songs, chosen by the gods to restore a lost ruler to his throne.

Here is her tale as she lived it.

 

I really wanted to like this tale more than I actually did. It had moments of greatness—as when Paksenarrion fights off her father and leaves home to join the army. (Although, as the daughter of a pig farmer, I will tell you that there are worse men that you could end up married to).

I read this book while on holiday and it always seemed that I was interrupted right in mid-battle, left wondering for many hours how things would turn out! That said, the battles were certainly not gritty like those described by Glen Cook in his Dark Company series. These were battlefield-lite. And although Paks is injured several times and has bad things happen to her, she leads the charmed life of the fantasy heroine.

What was refreshing was having a female main character who was competent with a weapon and interested in tactics. Now, how much is her own doing and how much is she being assisted by somewhat magical influences? This supernatural stirring in her life puts me in mind of Joan of Arc….

Book 241 of my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project.

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