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Sheepfarmer's Daughter
Elizabeth Moon
Narrated by Jennifer Van Dyck, unabridged
Brilliance Audio, 15 hours, 30 minutes

Sheepfarmer's Daughter
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: 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 Nicki Gerlach

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Sheepfarmer's Daughter is the first book in Elizabeth Moon's The Deed of Paksenarrion trilogy. Paksenarrion is the titular sheepfarmer's daughter, a young woman who wants something more than to marry her father's neighbor and become a farmer's wife in her small rural village. Fleeing from an argument with her father, she runs to the next village, where a patrol from a Duke's company of mercenaries has been sent to do some recruiting. Paksenarrion -- or Paks, as she prefers to be called -- immediately signs up, preferring the life of a soldier to that of a wife.

Paks enters into training right away, and she swiftly proves herself with her fighting ability. However, she must still work to become accustomed to the ways and mores of mercenary life, particularly after an incident with a fellow soldier leaves her on trial for her life. Although she's soon exonerated, she eventually comes to realize that the soldiering life is not quite what she'd expected, particularly in a mercenary company that fights for money rather than out of noble sentiment.

Paksenarrion's first real test comes when she and two companions are separated from the rest of their unit as the city in which they have been staying comes under attack by the forces of the Honeycat. He is a warlord who lacks the honor of Paks's commanders -- he is brutal, ruthless, and allied with those who turn to dark gods in order to work terrible magics. Paks and her friends must make a desperate cross-country journey while evading the Honeycat's forces in order to warn the rest of their allies and hopefully save their friends. But they may not be entirely alone… for it turns out that Paks may have powers even she never suspected.

I do not mean to make sweeping generalizations about books and authors and gender, but for most of the course of this book, I was convinced that Elizabeth Moon was a pseudonym for another (male) fantasy author who wanted to try his hand at writing a story with a heroine rather than a hero. Not because it's military fantasy per se -- I've read excellent military fantasy written by women -- but because so much of the emphasis is on fighting, training, and troop movements, while relatively little attention is paid to other types of description, such as character development or plot pacing. Upon checking Elizabeth Moon's bio, I saw that she had in fact been an officer in the Marines, which goes a long way to reconcile the disconnect I felt. Rather than being an issue of male vs. female, it's an issue of military vs. civilian; and make no mistake, this is a book about the military written by someone in the military.

If my thoroughly civilian reaction is any guide, perhaps this is a work primarily geared for an audience that is also in the military. I found the military stuff to be extremely dry going, and almost all there is in this book is military stuff. Long swaths of the book are spent with Paks's company training, drilling, marching somewhere, drilling some more, maybe fighting someone, marching somewhere else, digging latrines, and training some more, and I found it slow going, and nearly impossible to get involved in the story.

It certainly didn't help that Paks is essentially the only character that is developed beyond a name and maybe a single identifying feature, and even she is kind of blandly, solidly good at everything she does. Even the parts involving magic and Paks's being potentially gods-touched, which would normally be the parts that I would most gravitate towards, failed to fully hold my interest, since the various religions in Paks's world are never really developed either.

The audiobook presentation is nicely done; Jennifer Van Dyck is an experienced narrator with a very smooth reading style, and not once did I notice her tripping up over the pronunciation of the fairly outlandish names she had to work with. The only problem with the audiobook was that I felt the lack of a map pretty severely; while I don't enjoy reading descriptions of troop movements at the best of times, it's at least a little better when I can visualize where they're going.

Overall, while I suspect the rest of the trilogy is going in a direction more interesting than interminable military training, I don't feel enough of an attachment to the character or to the plot to pursue this series further. For someone who enjoys military fantasy replete with lots of accurate detail, though, I can see how this book would go over like gangbusters.

Copyright © 2010 Nicki Gerlach

Nicki Gerlach is a mad scientist by day and an avid reader the rest of the time.  More of her book reviews can be found at her blog, fyreflybooks.wordpress.com/.


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