Book Review: the Sheepfarmer’s Daughter by Elizabeth Moon

This month’s Asexual reading book from my 2018 Asexual Reading Goals was the Sheepfarmer’s Daughter (fantasy 314 pages) by Elizabeth Moon.

“Paksenarrion – Paks for short – is somebody special. She knows it, even if nobody else does yet. No way will she follow her father’s orders to marry the pig farmer down the road. She’s off to join the army, even if it means she can never see her family again. And so her adventure begins … the adventure that transforms her into a hero remembered in songs, chosen by the gods to restore a lost rule to his throne. Here is her tale as she lived it.”

As an interesting point, this book has been recommended to me multiple times throughout the years and I only just now got around to reading it. Now that I’ve finished the first book in this trilogy, I can see precisely why this book was recommended repeatedly to me. The main character is unequivocably Asexual and explicitly states that she has never felt inclined to bed anyone, though she does love those around her very deeply. She is so strongly opposed to marrying the pig farmer down the road that she steals a sword and runs away from home. But as soon as she’s a foot off of her family land, she plants the sword in the soil because she doesn’t want to be accused of stealing and the sword is something they might need.

Paksenarrion spends the entire book not actually believing that she’s anyone special. She’s just a soldier who needs to learn to be faster with her sword and shield; who does her camp chores like anyone else. She wants to serve an honorable cause and is willing to pull her fair share and always work to do better. Here is a character who is genuinely worth caring about, as she just wants to do the right thing but she’s also willing to work for it. Honestly, I really liked Paks a lot and I found a lot relatable with this character. She just accepted that she didn’t ever want to bed anyone and found an occupation where she could be who she wanted to be without the pressure of trying to fit into a mold not meant for her.

The Sheepfarmer’s Daughter is very casual about the horrors and reality of war. Mind-numbing tedium partnered with life-threatening situations. Unexpected and expected losses from the violence of war. All of the unpleasant parts of war, including the torture, the stink, and the lack of life-saving medicine. War is not a glorious time with rousing speeches – it’s a time of hunger and misery, feeling every stone in your boot and every foot of every mile. You don’t magically get a beautiful horse to ride around on. Instead, you have to spend months drilling and marching everywhere to learn discipline and how to fight as a team.

This book also had some really great things that I understand a lot better now, like this passage on page 113: “You see people as good or bad, not in between; as fighters or not, and not in between. And since you’re basically a good person, you see most people as good – but most people, Paks, are in between – both as fighters, and as good or bad. And they’re different. If you don’t learn to see them straight – just as you’d look at a sword, knowing all swords aren’t alike – you’ll depend on them for what they don’t have.” One of her fellow soldiers is talking to Paks about how she doesn’t understand that people aren’t always like her, nor can they be judged solely based on the good qualities Paks sees, like whether or not someone is a good fighter. It took me a long time to learn that the world isn’t black and white at all; that most people and most things in life are somewhere on a varied scale of color. Very little in our world is truly good or evil, though those things do exist. Most of everything is just people trying to do the best they can, however they see fit. This is/was a very important lesson but for all that people have recommended this book to me for years, I don’t think I was ready to read it until now.

You can still have the best of intentions and try everything you know to make things better and have everything turn out wrong. You can care about everyone and give of yourself without question and end up the villain of the story. You can learn and grow and want another chance to be happy with someone you love and they could never speak to you again. Nothing is ever as black and white as we’d all like to believe, and that makes the world a lot harder sometimes.

There was a section on page 255 where Paks is talking to the Paladin and the Marshal about how a higher power might have had a hand in some of her actions and survivals and her ideas about higher powers and their divine influence really struck a chord with me. I would think that the higher powers who are out there would want us to do everything we can first, and only ask for minor amounts of aid when absolutely necessary. At the same time, though, sometimes horrible things happen for reasons that involve a sacrifice for a better outcome. I think a lot of people who profess their religious views very strongly these days often don’t see the balance in things. Someone gets into a car accident, for instance, and blames the other driver completely without even listening to what happened. The truth of the accident is likely a combination of factors. Perhaps the driver was speeding and the other vehicle was distracted by a bird in the distance and so the vehicles collided. Only rarely does something have an obvious and definitive problem and solution. So Paks’ ideas on what religious personnel and their followers should do really struck a chord with me because of how little responsibility people take for helping each other and themselves these days. It’s a lot like the story of the man drowning in the flood who asked the higher powers to save him but then didn’t get in the boat when someone rowed by and asked if they needed help because they were positive that divine intervention would be what really saved them when the higher powers really just wanted to enable people to save other people.

Overall, I’m glad I finally read this book and happy the I own the entire trilogy. I’d probably rate this as a solid three on my rating scale and I’m likely to reread it in the future.

Moon, Elizabeth. Omnibus edition: The Deed of Paksenarrion. Baen Books. February, 1992. (combines Sheepfarmer’s Daughter, Divided Allegiance, and Oath of Gold).

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About C.A. Jacobs

Just another crazy person, masquerading as a writer.
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