Book Review: Sheepfarmer’s Daughter

Book Name: Sheepfarmer’s Daughter
Author: Elizabeth Moon
First Published: 1988
1989 Compton Crook Award winner

914BLbHr+wL._SL1500_Born in McAllen, Texas, Susan Elizabeth Norris started writing when she was a small child. Her first novel was about the family dog. In her teens, she began writing science fiction. She considered writing to be a hobby and focused her career on other interests.

In 1968, she earned her bachelor’s degree in History from Rice University in Houston, Texas and later followed up with a second B.A. in Biology. That year, she enlisted in the US Marine Corps as a computer specialist. She served on active duty for a number of years, reaching the rank of 1st Lieutenant. She married Richard Sloan Moon in 1969 and they had one son, Michael who was born in 1983.

Elizabeth Moon started her professional writing career in her mid-thirties with a newspaper column in a country weekly. Her first short story was  published in Analog and she was published in one of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress anthologies. Moon’s short stories became a regular occurrence in Analog over the next few years. Moon has other talents in addition to writing. She sings and plays the accordion. She is also a fencer, and is captain of the Science Fiction Writers’ Association Musketeers, a group of authors that enjoy fencing as a hobby.

Her first published novel is Sheepfarmer’s Daughter, which won the Compton Crook Award in 1989. It was the start of the Paksennarrion series and based on her real life experience as a soldier, but set in a fantasy world of swords and magic. Moon is known for her military fiction, both in fantasy and in science fiction, giving her character’s relationships–and what they experience as soldiers–a realistic edge. All of her soldiers exist in armies where men and women fight side by side and where this is considered the norm.

In 2003, Elizabeth Moon won a Nebula Award for her novel The Speed of Dark, which is inspired by her own autistic son Michael. In 2007, Moon was awarded the Robert A. Heinlein Award which honors “outstanding published works in hard science fiction or technical writings that inspire the human exploration of space.” Elizabeth Moon continues writing novels to this day. She is currently expanding on her Paksennarrion series, with more novels to come from Del Rey.

Sheepfarmer’s Daughter is about a girl named Paksennarrion, shortened to Paks, who runs away from home to avoid marrying a pig herder. She enlists in a mercenary company, intending to make a career as a soldier. In Duke Phelan’s Company, she undergoes basic training, learning to wield a short sword and how to march. The Company travels south, to a land known as Aerenis, to do battle for the Duke, but during the campaign, her cohort is captured by a villain known as the Honeycat. Paks and her friends, Canna and Seban, flee from the scene to bring word to the Duke, yet by the time they reach the Company, the prisoners are killed. Duke Phelan is outraged. He vows revenge on the Honeycat.

The Duke calls in many favors to replace the losses to his Company after its defeat. He hires southern free blades, pulls soldiers out of retirement and makes less than favorable alliances in order to gain the manpower he needs to defeat his enemy. During this time, Paks begins to experience signs that the gods might be favoring her. While she is a good soldier, it becomes clear that she might be destined for more. These experiences bring her to the attention of the Duke and they begin to develop a closer relationship, more like father and daughter or mentor and student. In the end, it is Paks who helps to capture the villain and it is she that helps the Duke overcome the rage that his quest for revenge has made of him.

I first read Elizabeth Moon via the novel she co-authored with Anne McCaffery, Sassenach. I was intrigued by the military themes in Moon’s writing because of the way she had men and women as soldiers together, each facing battle as equals, and by her well versed attention to the details of science in her settings. I thought at first that the author was male, with a female pen name, because her writing is so focused on what it is like to be a soldier, instead of personal relationships. When I learned that Moon had been an officer in the Marines, it explained much. She writes more about the professional relationships between military soldiers than relationships between civilians. A woman writing in the style of hard science fiction is somewhat rare, but Elizabeth Moon accomplishes it with aplomb. I had put off reading her fantasy series for a number of years simply because it was difficult to find in ebook form. Many people had recommended Sheepfarmer’s Daughter to me and I was happy to find an omnibus edition of The Deed of Paksennarrion with all three books of the trilogy in one available online. I dived right in.

I can tell that this is an author’s first novel. Sheepfarmer’s Daughter does meander in its plot here and there, and objects disappear without a reference. The relationships between the characters and character development could be better. However, the unfolding of this magical world from the eyes of a simple foot soldier is compelling. I found the author’s attention to detail of Paks’ training to be fascinating: how to fight with a pike; how to wield a sword;, how to ride a warhorse. Paks’ relationship with Duke Phelan changes from that of a simple recruit to that of trusted friend in a natural progression. As Paksennarrion earns her paladin rank, we come to realize where her inner strength and her loyalties come from, and perhaps why the gods of this world chose her to be their paladin.

The Deed of Paksennarrion is a long story; each volume of the trilogy will take time to read. For those with less patience, it might be difficult at first to get through the first book, Sheepfarmer’s Daughter. It details Paks’ training in Duke Phelan’s Company, her interactions with the other soldiers, and her initial battle experience. For those that are looking for romantic entanglements in their books, they will find it somewhat lacking and may wish to read something else. However, once you get beyond this point, the story picks up with plenty of action and more relationship development. Personally, I enjoyed reading about the basic training of the foot soldiers, but I realize that not everyone would find this as interesting as I would. I do recommend Sheepfarmer’s Daughter as a good place to start reading works from this accomplished military themed science fiction and fantasy author.

Deed of Paksenarrion Trilogy:

Sheepfarmer’s Daughter (June 1988)
Divided Allegiance (October 1988)
Oath of Gold (January 1989)

The Legacy of Gird novels:

Surrender None (June 1990)—prequel to The Deed of Paksenarrion
Liar’s Oath (May 1992)—sequel to Surrender None

Paladin’s Legacy novels:

Oath of Fealty (March 2010)—sequel to Oath of Gold
Kings of the North (March 2011)
Echoes of Betrayal (February 2012)
Limits of Power (June 2013)
Crown of Renewal (May 2014)