To quote Jim Butcher’s character Harry Dresden, “Time is always advancing and I’m fairly sure that it’s up to no good.” But when I saw that Barnes and Noble.com had released the omnibus version of Elizabeth Moon’s The Deed of Paksenarrion I had to consider that if time is up to no good, the law of unintended consequences means that time’s diabolical plans mean occasional bonuses for the nerds among us.
Elizabeth Moon is one of my favorite authors. She has degrees in history, biology, and life experience as a United States Marine. Both she and David Weber are mainstays of the Baen label, and both write about strong, respectable heroine protagonists. But where David Weber’s characters are untouchable and perfect, Mrs. Moon gives characters who are weak, human, self-doubting, and strong despite it. She knows what it is to be a woman serving among men, how to train, and fight. Her first-hand knowledge of history and the military carries through in every book of hers that I’ve ever read, because logistics and timing carry much more weight with her than other grandiose writers.
That is not to say that Moon’s characters are underachievers, or feeble. But Paksenarrion Dothansdotter begins as a strong woman, and this excellent trilogy invites us on a path from sheep farmer’s daughter to a great heroine of the world. I suspect Mrs. Moon’s biology degree influences her organic growth. There are no magic pills or giant prophecies in this series. Mrs. Moon’s journey is one of a thousand steps, each relevant and unique. We go along with Paks as she joins a mercenary company, becomes a true soldier, and then outgrows them. On her own we follow along some classic Dungeons and Dragons style adventures, wilderness hikes, and a dungeon crawl or two as Paks lives the life of an adventurer, growing all the while. To even comment on the third story would dishonor this excellent series, but the ending is as grand and magnificent as 300 in its own way, and made me glad of every step along the way.
This is a true victory in long-form fiction, and I admit it is a standard of humanity and plot to which I hold my own writing and others’ books as well.
Personal relationships color the incremental discovery of a world that is Moon’s own while close enough to familiar stereotypes that the gamer among us will feel right at home. The fight choreography is widely varied, accurate, and enjoyable for the very human setting of this world. This is one of those series I point to as an example of how to make a history education work for instead of against one’s story.
But the trilogy was only produced in a single large trade paperback run in the 1990’s, and when my copy flew away (as a compulsive book loaner my paperbacks often do so) I had to scavenge around e-bay and used book dealers to find another battered tome.
As economic and technological changes, those tools of advancing time, make ever more classic books available to us, I hope that more people will take advantage of the opportunity to touch the older works that are foundational to modern science fiction, fantasy, and their bastard child urban fantasy. The Deed of Paksenarrion is one such. I know how all my free time will be spent this week, and have no regrets!
Paks is in the Cloud and the world rejoices.
Superlative work: Highly Recommended.