Okay, I was wrong.
If you read my review for Divided Allegiance, which is the second book in The Deed of Paksenarrion, you will see that I thought that it would be the one in which the ending would be the hardest. In a way I was right, because it was Paks’ dark night of the soul; but in a way I was also wrong, because she’s certainly got a hard row to hoe in this novel that concludes the trilogy.
I loved this novel. This was high fantasy at its best; non-stop action in which only bravery and honour could save the day before it was too late, filled with characters who rose to the challenge and faced terrible physical and spiritual danger and worse odds, with the fate of nations at stake. And yet it carried the hallmarks of what I am coming to recognize as Moon’s style; realism applied to magical fantasy. Logistics matter and political decisions have consequences, and even the best person makes enemies simply by being who they are. Best of all, Moon does not ever shrink from the subject matter of the story. Bad Guys do evil things and she doesn’t fade that all to black behind a screen. You get to see why evil is evil.
And I still see the bones of the Dungeons & Dragons game that the story was based on. In D&D terms, near the beginning of the novel, Paksenarrion was under the effects of a curse and, while the priests of the temple (grange) she was from were willing to cast an Atonement for her, they were not high enough level to banish the curse. So she went to a higher level druid to seek the Atonement, and in the meantime, since she made a level but could not raise her paladin class, she dual-classed as a ranger for a level or two. When the Atonement had been received she went back to raising paladin levels. I invite other Old School D&D nerds like me to read the first few chapters and tell me if you agree with my interpretation.
I won’t tell you how it ends, but I will say that much remains unresolved; not in Paksenarrion’s story arc, but in terms of the unfolding events. And I’m invested now. So it’s fortune for me that twenty years later, Moon picked up where she left off, and wrote a five book series centered on one of the major characters from this trilogy that deals with those unresolved events. I’m collecting that series too now and I’ll start into it when I have all five books and not before; because Oath of Gold picked up right where Divided Allegiance’s cliffhanger left off, so I’ll know to expect that in future novels from Moon.
Since I was reading this series for the Women of Genre Fiction challenge, and I won’t be reading any more Elizabeth Moon books for the challenge (because, after three of her books, she no longer counts as a “new to me” writer) I will offer my opinion of her writing in general. I think that in places it was slow and stilted where it didn’t need to be; but to cut her a break, I understand this series was her first and I imagine she has improved considerably. Her space opera novel The Speed of Dark won a Nebula award, after all. I got the feeling in places that one or two events were really the central plot of the book and almost everything around those events were setup, in a style that is similar to that of David Weber’s Honor Harrington novels (but isn’t nearly as opaque and tedious, don’t worry.) However, her pacing improved considerably as the series went on and the final book was a not-to-be-put-down page-turner from about a third of the way in. Also, Moon’s experience as a Marine has stood her in good stead, in that her understanding of military logistics and strategy, and the details of military combat, have dosed her fantasy with enough realism that you can truly believe in it. Also, I like her characters very much, and I would like to give her a rousing cheer for the creation of Paksenarrion, who is probably the most believable paladin and woman warrior I have had the pleasure to read about.