The Texas author Elizabeth Moon has had a long and successful career in science fiction and fantasy, but my favorite books by her are still her first trilogy of novels, collected in omnibus as The Deed of Paksenarrion or beginning with the first title, The Sheepfarmer’s Daughter.
In the first chapter, young Paksenarrion has been sold into an arranged marriage by her father, but rather than settling for the dull life of a farmer’s wife, Paks has more excitement in mind. She runs away from home to become a mercenary. So begins a life of adventure that will lead her through victory and tragedy; meetings with dukes, generals, elves, dwarves, and magicians; and ultimately, into training as a paladin.
First published in the late 1980s, these books show the influence of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (as most fantasy of the time did), but in the end Moon finds her own way. She weaves her own experiences as a marine, as a fencing master, and as a horsewoman into her story, and this shows in telling detail. Paks is a wonderful character, naive but goodhearted, strong and noble but self-effacing. Her story is full of humor, excitement, and many poignant moments as well. With secondary characters who demonstrate a variety of good and bad behaviors and many interesting dilemmas, this is a fantasy that can support a group discussion. Readers who are less ambitious can read just the first book, while the more adventurous or those who become fans will want to finish the trilogy.
Moon went on to pen two successful science fiction space opera series with great female protagonists (start with Hunting Party or Trading in Danger if SF is more your style). Beginning in 2010, she returned to Paks’s world with Oath of Fealty and three more titles in the Paladin’s Legacy series. Elizabeth Moon is a dependable author without a bad book in her lengthy canon. If you like traditional speculative fiction and haven’t discovered her yet, by all means seek out this fantastic writer.