A Review of ‘The Sheepfarmer’s Daughter’ by Elizabeth Moon, Book 1 of The Deed of Paksenarion

I’ve decided to try something a little new. For this book (and hopefully many books to come), I’m going to be writing two blog posts about it. The first is a review, while the second is a literary analysis, where I go deeper on the book. Why? Two reasons. First, the literary analysis I did for The Rage of Dragons wound up being one my most popular posts of all time, so there might be a market for long-form analysis of fantasy novel. Second, whenever I write my reviews I struggle to write a short review instead of an enormous review. What can I say? I like writing. By doing two posts, I can (hopefully) get the best of both worlds.

So let’s get this started.


Spoilers Below! You’ve been warned. Also, all reviews are subjective. My opinions are my own.

I saw this book recommended on this reddit thread, so I decided to check it out. I listened to the audiobook, and the narrator did an excellent job.

Here’s a link to my literary analysis of this book. I suggest you read the book first before you read my analysis.


CHARACTERS AND CHARACTERIZATION:

While I enjoyed the protagonist Paksenarrion for having agency, many of the men and women around her ultimately were on the bland side. The author did an EXCELLENT job of portraying soldierly characters (honorable, faithful, strong), but beyond being soldierly I never got a good impression of what made the different characters different. No one seemed to have a distinct personality.

This a somewhat melancholy story, where many of Paks’ friends die. This book was at it’s most emotionally resonant when Paks was mourning her friends, but these moments were held back by the underdeveloped nature of all the side characters. At times Paks was even driven to wonder if making friends at all is wise, because all the ones she makes seem to die.

Where many of the books published back in the ’80’s have poor female characters, I found this book treated the female characters with respect.

Overall, I give the story’s Characterization a rating of: (C+)


PACING AND STRUCTURE

Pacing wise, the book has a slow start, but picks up about halfway through. However there were enough exciting episodes early on that I remained entranced.

Structure wise, I enjoyed the book’s focus on a slowly growing protagonist, learning how to fight and succeed but only after several setbacks. Paksenarrion is NOT a Marry Sue/Gary Stue who learns to fight instantly. Paks struggles to learn to fight, but over the course of the story she becomes quite skilled. When Paks is bored after an umpteenth lesson, we’re bored too. Military life is supposedly 99% boredom and 1% terror so this early tedium, oddly, works.

Overall, I give the story’s Pacing and Structure: (B+)


PLOT

This is Classic 1980’s/1990’s Fantasy. I’d describe this book as Alanna meets A Game of Thrones. Similar to Game of Thrones, there is attempted rape and friends dying, and mourning their losses. Similar to Alanna, we have a female soldier protagonist who goes on a hero’s journey, makes friends, and tries to make the world a better place.  There is a good-vs-evil narrative dichotomy, but overall it wasn’t important to the plot.

This is the story of a military company out on campaign, fighting for coin and vengeance in the name of greater glory. The author has serious skill in writing fight scenes… which is good, because there was a lot of combat. This book reminds me most of the combat in ‘the Shadow Campaigns’ series by Django Wexler with a focus on tactics and troop movements.

My one complaint is that the ending was a bit anticlimactic. I was expecting something more.

Overall, I give the story’s Plot: (B)


EVERYTHING ELSE (SETTING, WORLDBUILDING, PROSE AND THEME)

The setting is a bit tropey, with honorable paladins and soldiers fighting for righeous causes, and also an antagonist so evil that he has no redeeming features. This was written in the 1980’s, so it’s of the time. The setting felt similar to Pierce’s Tortall or Sullivan’s Riyeria, but with minimal magic. I got D&D-vibes too.

I liked the focus on going on war campaign, travelling from place to place. Lots of travel and hard work and misery. Made the story seem like an actual travellog, which gave the individual fights more meaning because they have to travel to get to them first.

As for theme, the theme is Esprit de Corp, aka the fighting spirit of the army. I thought it was very well implemented.

I give Everything Else: (B)


SUMMARY

This story splits the difference between being classic fun and having dark depths. It is classic sword-and-sorcery fantasy, but with the twist of being about a woman soldier in a military company. It has a bit of a slow start, but that slow start works well to establish Paks’ character arc. Once you get into the military campaign at about the 25% mark, the story starts avalanching to an exciting conclusion. The book ends cleanly, but it was a bit of a letdown.


STARS:  3.75 OUT OF 5 STARS (5 stars=Perfect, 4 Stars=Great, 3 Stars=Good, 2 Stars=Fun but Flawed, 1 Star=Not Recommended)

JUDGEMENT: Well written military fantasy, with many dark moments. Think Riyria but melancholy.

Overall Rating: Recommended (How I Rate Books)


Goodreads

Genres/Tagwords: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Military Fantasy, Military Fiction, Adventure, YA-ish, Tamora Pierce-ish, Game of Thrones-ish, Sword and Sorcery, Kickass Female Protagonist

Previous books by the author/in the series I’ve reviewed:

  • None

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