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The Sheepfarmer’s Daughter by Elizabeth Moon

The Sheepfarmer’s Daughter by Elizabeth Moon
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Book Name: The Sheepfarmer’s Daughter
Author: Elizabeth Moon
Publisher(s): Baen
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook
Genre(s): Epic Fantasy
Release Date: June 1, 1988 (US) December 1, 2000 (UK)

Now I know you are not meant to judge a book by its cover but upon seeing Paksenarrion clad in full armour I could not resist. In The Sheepfarmer’s Daughter you enter into a world very much like Middle Earth where you’ll find men, elves, dwarves, wizards and even orcs but sadly no hobbits. I cannot deny I was impressed and gripped by the prologue, Moon manages to establish that Paksenarrion becomes a legend and yet doesn’t elude to how and still manages to leave a question mark over her fate. So the reader goes in not only looking forward to tales of great adventure but there’s still the tension of not knowing whether our heroine will come out of it alive.

However, after this the story begins to falter. First of all there’s the issue of plot, aside from the potential rape storyline there isn’t much in terms of plot and the main storyline doesn’t really appear until well over halfway through; it is more a series of events demonstrating Paks’s progression as a mercenary. It is clear it was written by an ex-military woman, the attention to detail and the true realities of military life are something to be commended. However, there is an aspect of wanting to show the mundane nature of that life, even the characters comment on wanting more action, but this runs the risk at times of making the story mundane. That’s not to say there isn’t action, there is a lot of action, so much so the fights blur into one another at times and if you lose focus for a moment you’ll find yourself in a fight with no idea how you got there.

Paksenarrion or ‘Paks’ is our heroine, one I so desperately wanted to like but I couldn’t help but find her a little flat. She’s good at everything, always drawing the attention of the most powerful people around her. Whilst this allows the narrative to take us to some essential scenes I found myself looking on Paks like the popular girl at school who gets everything handed to her. Whilst it’s understandable that the protagonist is the centre of attention in the novel, with Paks it began to become tedious and unbelievable, everything just happens to Paks. If something important is going to happen you can guarantee that not only will she be there but it’ll happen to her.

I think my main issue was my inability to relate to Paks, aside from a childish desire for battle, she doesn’t have any other character flaws. She’s so moral, so pure, so good at everything, there’s no substance to her. That being said she’s not so perfect that she’s immune to mistake, she is injured in nearly every battle she fights in, which I once again give praise to Moon for showing the reality of war, no one is immune.

Alongside Paks are her companions, a host of names to try and remember but they show so little character that I eventually found myself not even bothering to remember who was who. That being said I have a lot of affection for certain side characters, especially Stammel. It is with characters such as these where we see complexities and flaws, they are held hostage by their loyalties and role as mercenaries and what their conscience tells them is right.

Due to the mild tone of the text I was quite surprised and gripped when the narrative took a dark turn. It was a surprise to discover that Moon had no qualms killing off central characters, not even writing their deaths, but informing you at a later stage, showing that just because a character was important does not guarantee them a glorious death.

In one chapter the point of view changes from Paks, which I do not clearly understand as Paks is present in the chapter and the POV is never changed again, before or after. However, it makes for one of the most entertaining and most shocking chapters in the book. Halveric is a complex character who suffers and endures a great deal, you feel every moment with him as he is tortured and interrogated. Now I won’t give away what happens to Halveric but I will say no matter how many times they threaten him I never once imagined it would happen and once again credit to Moon for doing so.

I must admit I felt a little downhearted by this first instalment of the Paksenarrion trilogy, maybe my expectations were too high or my reading tastes have been corrupted by the ‘Grim Dark’ fantasy of recent years. Upon finishing the first book I went and researched it only to find high praise at every turn. Bemused, I researched further and found that the novel actually originates from the late 80s and due to my reprint I was mistaken it for a recent release. There is a chance my criticisms are in part due to how the book has aged and I did not give it enough leniencies, like the leniencies I give Tolkien every time someone bursts into song or when Gandalf decides to have a sit down in the middle of a battle.

Furthermore, these reviews were of the trilogy as a whole. From the blurb of my omnibus edition only what’s described in the first paragraph has actually occurred so far so maybe the greatness is still to come. I did discover that Moon actually wrote the Paksenarrion trilogy initially as one very long book so the first novel could easily be excused as simply there to set the scene and introduce the reader to important characters and themes. So I am choosing to reserve my final judgement of this trilogy until I have read all three instalments.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (7 votes cast)
The Sheepfarmer’s Daughter by Elizabeth Moon, 10.0 out of 10 based on 7 ratings
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3 Comments

  1. Val says:

    I’ve read this book recently as well and I can’t say I was inspired by it to read the rest of the trilogy. Personally I thought it much of it was the soldier’s equivalent of a boring day at the office (on top of the issues with Paks’ character development you have mentioned). My girlfriend has read more books in this series and she feels that they get better once you get beyond the trilogy.

  2. KJ Braxton says:

    Completely agree, I’m reviewing the whole trilogy so sticking it out but I found myself thinking if I was reading it for pleasure I would have put it down.

  3. JC Crumpton says:

    Similar to your impressions, I was intrigued by the setup but felt let down.

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