Well, all this is interesting to me, anyway, and that's what matters here. The Internet is a terrible thing for someone like me, who finds almost everything interesting.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
"Oath of Fealty" by Elizabeth Moon
Oath of Fealty is the new sequel to Elizabeth Moon's The Deed of Paksenarrion fantasy trilogy (Sheepfarmer's Daughter, Divided Allegiance, and Oath of Gold) first published more than two decades ago. (Yes, confusingly it's also the title of a 1981 science fiction novel by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, but I'm talking about the 2010 fantasy novel here.)
Beginning immediately where Oath of Gold left off, this is epic fantasy, with events spread across several lands already familiar from the previous trilogy. If you've read The Deed of Paksenarrion, you'll know exactly what to expect (and you do need to read that story first). It's fun and exciting, and I could hardly put the book down. But when I finished, I had a couple of problems with it.
First, let me talk about what I loved here. Rather than continuing with a typical sequel, Moon very wisely chose to focus on other characters in this book. After all, after the first three books, is there anything we don't already know about Paksenarrion? We followed her from her start as a runaway and an apprentice mercenary through all manner of danger and disaster, and eventually to her becoming a paladin of the gods. What could Moon add to her story at this point? Well, Paks is still around, but she's a minor character in this book.
And have you ever wondered, at the end of a fantasy novel where good has triumphed, what life is like afterward? Sure, you might see the hero riding off into the sunset, but what about everyone else whose life has been affected, sometimes drastically, by the events of the book? Oath of Fealty focuses on several people who must now accept new challenges: Kieri Phelan, who has become king of a land he doesn't know; Jandelir Arcolin, senior captain of mercenaries, who must unexpectedly take command of the mercenary company; and Dorrin, another senior captain, who returns to her despised family holdings in Tsaia as Duke Verrakai.
As in the previous books, there are all sorts of minor characters, too - and some not so minor - who have their own stories. They seem like real people, and their actions have consequences, with events rippling through society. No one acts in a vacuum, and no one person can do everything. Every character depends on others, and every action affects other people, too. It's really great. In this book, we see the effect of events in the previous trilogy, the effect on whole societies and the personal effect on individuals.
One minor problem at the end of the book is that it just... stops. It doesn't end in the middle of a sentence, but it's almost that bad. This is apparently the beginning of a series (a trilogy?) and the books will definitely not stand alone. As I say, there are a number of different threads in this book, widely scattered across many lands, and none of them come to any kind of conclusion, not even a temporary one. There aren't any cliff-hangers, either. Apparently, the book just ends because of length (471 pages in this hardcover edition).
That might not be a problem, especially if you expect it (I didn't). But I had a more serious problem with one of the story threads, where the person becomes so magically powerful that she's virtually another Paks. I'm not crazy about all-powerful superheroes, especially when they're born with an advantage that other people just don't have (and can't compete against). OK, this is a world of magic, but still.
One of the great things about The Deed of Paksenarrion was that it featured mercenary soldiers who relied on their training, experience, and hard work to succeed. The gods would help out occasionally, and mages were useful and/or dangerous, but in general, it was their own effort that mattered. Even a lowly sheepfarmer's daughter could join the troop and become a highly-skilled fighter. By the end of the story, Paks had become more than that, but it was, after all, the end of the story. And as I noted, Elizabeth Moon wisely chose to keep Paks as a minor character in this book.
Unfortunately, she then created another character at least as wildly overpowered as Paks (and probably even more so). It's not a bad storyline, but it's not to my taste. And it's too similar to what we've seen in the previous books. I would have much preferred a different direction to this story thread. I thoroughly enjoyed the other threads in the book, and even this one was entertaining, but I really don't like the direction it took. (My disappointment is probably greater because I liked this story thread so much at the beginning of the book. And the fact that her enemies are also supermen doesn't help much.)
So, while I was wildly enthusiastic about the book when I was reading it, at least most of the way, I wasn't quite so enthusiastic when I finished. It's still a very good read, though, and I do plan to buy the next book in the series, whenever it's released. If you liked The Deed of Paksenarrion, I'm sure you'll like this book. I definitely wouldn't start with this one, though. You do need to read the previous trilogy first.
PS. In a way, Oath of Fealty is oddly typical. I enjoy Elizabeth Moon's writing, but there's usually something that bothers me in most of her books. I loved The Deed of Paksenarrion, but I could have done without the torture scene in the third book. I loved The Speed of Dark, but I wasn't as fond of the ending. And Trading in Danger just didn't ring true for me, for some reason. But I love her characters. I always care what happens to them, and that's very important for me in any novel.
___ Note: My review of the sequel, Kings of the North, is here.
I'm a skeptic. I think it makes sense to have reasons for what I believe, so I apportion my belief to the evidence. You're welcome to disagree. Please, tell me I'm wrong. I probably don't agree with anyone about everything. Why should disagreement be a problem? Check the Pages section below for series posts and links to book reviews and game posts, as well as contact info. Unfortunately, I rarely blog at all, anymore. So don't expect new posts. - Bill
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It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong - Richard Feynman
The general root of superstition is that men observe when things hit, and not when they miss, and commit to memory the one, and pass over the other. - Sir Francis Bacon
When a whole nation is roaring Patriotism at the top of its voice, I am fain to explore the cleanness of its hands and purity of its heart. - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Speculation is perfectly all right, but if you stay there you've only founded a superstition. If you test it, you've started a science. - Hal Clement
No matter how many times a theory meets its tests successfully, there can be no certainty that it will not be overthrown by the next observation. This, then, is a cornerstone of modern natural philosophy. It makes no claim of attaining ultimate truth. In fact, the phrase "ultimate truth" becomes meaningless, because there is no way in which enough observations can be made to make truth certain and, therefore, "ultimate". - Isaac Asimov
The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion. - Treaty of Tripoli, passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate and signed by President John Adams (1797)
I don't doubt the sincerity of dowsers, but even after we've demonstrated that they can't produce results that are any better than chance they'll still go away believing in their abilities... It is like the mother whose son is caught shoplifting on tape. She wonders why someone would want to frame her child by producing a fake video. - James Randi
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A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything. - Friedrich Nietzsche
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To be elected in America, no matter from what party, the candidates have no choice but to year after year pledge to lower taxes further and further. We have become the nation of Ken and Barbie, looking good but very poor at the math. - Rack Jite
Invisible Pink Unicorns are beings of great spiritual power. We know this because they are capable of being invisible and pink at the same time. Like all religions, the Faith of the Invisible Pink Unicorns is based upon both logic and faith. We have faith that they are pink; we logically know that they are invisible because we can't see them. - Steve Eley
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