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Limits of Power: Paladin's Legacy, Book 4
Elizabeth Moon
Del Rey, 497 pages

Limits of Power
Elizabeth Moon
Elizabeth Moon grew up in south Texas, 250 miles south of San Antonio and eight miles from the Mexican border. She attended Rice University and joined the US Marines in 1968. With a second degree in biology, she entertained thoughts about going to med school after her husband, but circumstances intervened.

Elizabeth Moon Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Sheepfarmer's Daughter
SF Site Review: Vatta's War: Trading in Danger, Part 2
SF Site Review: Oath of Fealty
SF Site Review: Vatta's War: Trading in Danger, Part 1
SF Site Review: Victory Conditions
SF Site Review: Moon Flights
SF Site Review: Command Decision
SF Site Review: Command Decision
SF Site Review: Engaging the Enemy
SF Site Review: Marque and Reprisal
SF Site Review: Trading in Danger
SF Site Review: Speed of Dark
SF Site Review: Once A Hero
SF Site Review: Rules of Engagement
SF Site Review: Remnant Population

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Sherwood Smith

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Back in the 70s and 80s, many writers were so inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings that they engaged with it by sub-creating their own world based on Tolkien's template: a quest through a war-torn preindustrial landscape full of castles, orcs, elves, dwarves, etc.

Elizabeth Moon demonstrated a similar inspiration with her Deeds of Paksenarrion series, but she differed from the general run of Middle-Earth-inspired epic fantasy by approaching the story not from the point of view of a hidden prince or a hobbit-like being, but from the perspective of an ordinary foot-soldier. The reader followed Paks from her first days as an awkward grunt to her apotheosis as a paladin.

Twenty years later, Moon revisited that world, kicking off a new series, Paladin's Legacy.

There is a short exchange near the end of the third volume, Echoes of Betrayal, that perhaps sums up this new series' arc:

  "Paladins," the Marshal said, "always cause trouble."

"What?" That was not what Arvid expected to hear.

"You could even say the gods always cause trouble—certainly Gird did, though se celebrate the trouble he caused. Paladins, though -- we don't really know how they started, but it's clear they come into the world to change it, and that's always trouble for someone."

 

The new series begins with Oath of Fealty whose opening pages put the reader inside the story hours after the last series ended.

Through this novel and the subsequent two volumes, Kingdoms of the North and Echoes of Betrayal, we follow Kieri Phelan, who abruptly finds himself transformed from a duke in charge of a mercenary company into a king; we also follow his captains Jandelir Arcolin and Dorrin Verrakai, who each get promoted into spheres they never expected. Phlegmatic Sergeant Stammel has, if possible, an even stranger trajectory, as does Arvid Semminson, the thief-enforcer who rescued Paks.

We meet new characters, such as the new young king Mikeli of Tsaia, and his court; we meet elves again, but also gnomes, kuakkgani, and a very strange being even older, as the world, its history, and its pantheon of gods are explored.

We also meet some familiar villains, and new ones.

Limits of Power begins minutes after the end of Echoes of Betrayal. The reader is plunged into the chaos after the climax of that volume, without introduction of the characters. Though a new reader will find a helpful map at the beginning of the volume, plus a Dramatis Personae, that does not explain who they are, how they are related, what they look like, and most of all their very complicated back stories. I strongly recommend that the new reader begin with Oath of Fealty.

As with the previous volumes, the reader is shifted back and forth between all the main characters as the story builds inexorably toward... the cataclysm promised in the next, and presumably concluding, volume.

The pacing through all four books proceeds at a steady march, with occasional charges at speed. Some readers might find that stately deliberation slow; a characteristic of Moon's writing is the detail, especially of military movements, being vividly and sometimes painstakingly described. Supplies are never forgotten. Animal care. Weapons care. Weapons practice. The importance of regalia. The second reason the pacing can be slow, especially through the early volumes, is that there is a tendency for the characters when reporting an incident to repeat it verbatim for different characters instead of summarizing. I noticed that there was less of this in the present volume, and more summation, which tightened the sense of movement.

The details make the world seem real, lived in. There is a sense of accelerating change geographically, economically, culturally, and also in religious matters. All these things are important to the characters and how change is presented, and how characters react is individual and believable, adding to the verisimilitude.

Moon switches between locales and characters, managing to keep the timing flowing forward, so there is rarely a sense of having to go back and catch up. While I find myself most involved in Duke Dorrin (who, though a woman, is not a duchess) Verrakai and her complicated past, each character arc is complex, with its own dangers, triumphs, and goals. There is enough communication between them to keep the overall storyline braided, so that it never seems to have sprawled out of control.

There has been a lot of debate of late about epic fantasy: what constitutes grimdark, what that means, fantasy written by male and female authors, etc. Moon's series contains all the elements expected of epic fantasy: big battles, magic and liminal realities and eucatastrophe, other races and cultural change, long views of time, tragedy both sharp and lingering as well as moments of joy and laughter. If the reader has a taste for good versus evil, and a keelson of human decency supporting the structure, then Moon's series should appeal.

Copyright © 2013 Sherwood Smith

Sherwood Smith is a writer by vocation and reader by avocation. Her webpage is at www.sff.net/people/sherwood/.


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