quizcustodiet: (drunk)
[personal profile] quizcustodiet
I just finished reading The Deed of Paksenarrion, by Elizabeth Moon. I picked it up because a number of you have said good things about it over the years, and I enjoyed Sassinak when I read it as a teenager.

Overall I really enjoyed it - I'm a sucker for stories that include school or training, and so I particularly enjoyed the sequences as a recruit to Duke Phelan's company and further training at Fin Panir, but those were just highlights. The whole thing was very enjoyable, and I've probably been annoying [livejournal.com profile] shreena more than a little with my focus on finishing it!

I liked Paksenarrion well enough, but there's no escaping the fact she's a bit of a Mary Sue. I thought it was ok that she was very, very good with weapons, as we saw enough of her putting in the training to earn that skill. I wasn't as convinced by her spiritual character: I may be misremembering, but I don't think we ever see her seriously tempted to do the wrong thing. There is a long passage between books two and three in which she's less than admirable, but I think the author hammers home that this is NOT PAKS' FAULT. But this may just be a realistic depiction of the sort of person who'd become a Paladin.

Which brings me on to my final point. Having spent many happy hours playing one form of Dungeons and Dragons or another, I was entertained by how closely a paladin's powers in this world were modelled on a 2nd Edition paladin's powers. For a period, I almost had a checklist running:

  • Detect Evil - got it!
  • Protection from Evil, 10' radius - got it!
  • Lay on Hands (Healing) - got it! (Albeit with a much more convincing mechanical limit than AD&D's 'once per day')
  • Paladin's Mount - got it!
  • Immunity to Fear - got it!

Wikipedia suggests that part of the inspiration for the novels was to lay out how a Paladin would really behave, in contrast to many people's failed role-playing of the class, which makes sense. I thought the novel's approach to being a paladin vs following orders was particularly interesting, and a nice challenge to the usual stereotype of Lawful Stupid.

On a geeky mechanical point, I think the approach taken in Moon's world (where paladins are chosen from established warriors) makes more sense than the traditional 'I am a paladin of right! Watch me be torn to shreds by an enraged rabbit' that comes from starting at level 1.

ETA - I see there are a number of prequels and sequels in the same world. Are they any good? I saw some in the library today, but decided to hold off in case they were just an attempt to milk the success of the first trilogy.

Date: 2013-02-16 03:16 pm (UTC)
wychwood: chess queen against a runestone (WW - Lewis queen)
From: [personal profile] wychwood
Yay! Like you, I love the "training school" thing, so her early training is always my favourite bit :)

Wikipedia suggests that part of the inspiration for the novels was to lay out how a Paladin would really behave, in contrast to many people's failed role-playing of the class, which makes sense. I thought the novel's approach to being a paladin vs following orders was particularly interesting, and a nice challenge to the usual stereotype of Lawful Stupid.

I hadn't realised that before, but it does make a lot of sense! I think that, as you say, Paks has to be the kind of strongly-good person she is in order to become a paladin - that's what makes her an appropriate candidate in the first place.

Other books: I don't think they're a "milking", but they're very different in atmosphere from the first trilogy. There's a two-volume prequel thing about Gird and Luap, respectively; I've never liked them (especially the Luap book), but that's partly because they are mostly freaking depressing - they're about trying to build a better society and (spoiler!) kind of failing. Also, Luap in particular is a dick, although I think Moon does a good job of making that plausible. They provide some interesting backstory for Paks' world, and there's some set-up which I think is eventually going to become relevant in the current series, but, hm. Caveats, definitely.

The "current series": this is a sequel to the Paks books, and much more directly so; Paks is only a peripheral character, but the action revolves around Duke Phelan, Phelan's company, and various other characters both from the Paks books and new introductions. The scope is much wider, international politics and negotiations, and the story is rather more diffuse, at least so far; I'm enjoying it quite a lot, but, three books in, I'm still not really sure where it's going. Worth reading if you can get them from the library, though, probably.

Given that you liked these, I'd also recommend the Serrano Legacy, which I'm also very fond of; it hits quite a lot of the same buttons for me, although it's military space opera.

(Her other writing: I didn't much like the series starting with Trading in Danger; her short stories are generally good; Speed of Dark is near-future SF about a cure for autism and I remember finding it extraordinary and also shattering, but haven't been able to summon up the courage to re-read in a long time; Remnant Population is a great, fun science fiction novel about an old woman who stays behind when her colony world is evacuated, and discovers previously-unknown intelligent life there. Moon writes really awesome old ladies, in a lot of these books!)

Date: 2013-02-17 11:13 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] quizcustodet.livejournal.com
Thanks for the recommendations - I'll keep an eye out for the Serrano Legacy and the follow-on series. If I really like those, I might go back for Gird and Luap.

Thinking of Gird, one thing which I thought was interesting, and potentially didn't quite work, was the debate about hierarchy vs individual revelation. It's a common theme in modern discussions of religion to try to separate the human hierarchy of the Church from the divine inspiration, but it seems strange in a world where the divine inspiration intervenes directly in daily life. Given that Gird and the High Lord are clearly capable of speaking directly to mortals, the situation in the novel where Paks has to be independent of the Girdish hierarchy so she can follow her own way doesn't quite work: surely Gird and the High Lord are quite capable of making their feelings known through the hierarchy if they want to? And if they don't want to, surely they could order the hierarchy dissolved?

Date: 2013-02-18 03:56 pm (UTC)
wychwood: chess queen against a runestone (WW - Lewis queen)
From: [personal profile] wychwood
That's true; I hadn't really thought of it that way. Direct divine intervention is clearly very rare, though - my impression was that the other paladins Paks meets had never had the kind of direct awareness of, say, Gird that she did; there's the paladin powers and other similar things, the healing that the Marshals have, etc, but that seems relatively... automated? So presumably they could step in directly if they wanted, but that's clearly not how they generally operate.

And if they don't want to, surely they could order the hierarchy dissolved?

I don't know about in this trilogy, but the prequels suggest that it's harder than you might think *g*. Gird spent decades trying to keep things more open, and failed. Of course, he was still alive then...

More seriously, hierarchies are notoriously hard to get rid of. I think it's a fair assumption that any such dissolution would rapidly be replaced by a new hierarchy, just as far from Gird's actual intent (even assuming goodwill on all parts - which I think is largely true of the order in general).

And looping back around - anything Gird could do directly would be temporary, at best; I think you'd still end up with very similar problems, and Paks trapped inside the new system. The Order of Gird is in general a source of good for the population; you could break it down or reform it, and end up with something containing very similar flaws, or you could leave it alone, send Paks outside it, and hope that her example will lead to some internal reform.

I don't know. I agree that it seems like they could do more, but our world suggests that it's a lot harder than it looks! And Gird isn't all-powerful; he's a saint, with limited abilities. The High Lord is presumably omnipotent, but also a lot more detached. It's a complicated one.

Date: 2013-02-16 06:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kisanthe.livejournal.com
I've read the first two of these. I enjoyed the first one enough to have re-read it! I agree that Paks is pretty much a Sue, and I agree that paladins are probably rather Sue-ish by default, when they're the ideal, Lawful Good, wise, charismatic, brave, etc. types rather than the tabletop Lawful Stupid. Paks's time as a recruit was my favorite part of the first novel because of how her training was handled. Her chosen career isn't glorious; Moon never pretends it is. I also weirdly love that scene where they loot the town later. Mercenaries would, but they rarely do in other books.

I didn't care for the second. I started to dislike the way Gird gets pressed on Paks and sometimes on other characters even in the first book, and I recall that being worse in book two, though what really bothered me was the subplot with the druid and the... ghost cat? The thing that ate souls. Incompatible morality, I suppose: I didn't agree at all with the druid's definition of 'evil.' Come to think of it, the definition is probably courtesy of a D&D handbook. The early section with the half-elf mage read like a transcribed D&D module, too. I haven't read the third book, but I own it. Is it worthwhile?

(I've always loved D&D, mind you, I just would've preferred that the serial numbers be filed off a little better....)

If you ever run into a copy of the anthology Horse Fantastic, Moon has a short story in it from the same world as Paksenarrion. It has nothing to do with Paks, though: it shows the coming-of-age rite of the culture Saben comes from.

Date: 2013-02-17 11:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] quizcustodet.livejournal.com
I can see both sides of the ghost cat argument. On the one hand, if it's trying to enspell you and eat your soul, enspelling it in return seems fair enough. On the other, given how easy it would have been for Paks to tell it to go away and not bother them again, killing it instead does seem disproportionate. I think the classic druid would think that it was acceptable for you to counteract its magical powers, but that you should leave it the ability to fight physically and/or run away. 2E druids are so dedicated to the balance as to be almost unplayable as PCs, so it'd be interesting if Elizabeth Moon wanted to take on the challenge of a similar trilogy about a kuakgan.

I enjoyed the third book - it ties up the plot threads nicely. There's less of the religious stuff than there is in the second book, and what there is is not all about Gird, so I don't think that should be a problem. If you own it anyway, I think it's worth a read!

Date: 2013-02-17 04:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kisanthe.livejournal.com
My take was that anything that eats souls is so horrible and awful if not evil (and I'd probably say evil, too, since why would such a thing exist if an evil god hadn't created it for funsies? Although whether an animal is capable of evil is a valid question) that to leave it surviving to potentially eat the next soul after yours would be the evil action. I remember that druids were unyielding/sometimes insensible, but the yelling about how evil it was to remove the soul-destroying menace from the world made me throw the book down and facepalm at one point.

I'll give the third a shot, then! Thanks for the recommendation!


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