Thursday, July 29, 2010

Audio Book Review: Sheepfarmer's Daughter by Elizabeth Moon

Posted by Simcha 8:43 PM, under | 2 comments

Paksenarrion has dreamed for years of becoming a soldier, like her cousin. When Paks's overbearing father tries to marry her off to a local pig farmer Paks runs away and joins a mercenary company that is recruiting in the area. While training to become a soldier is nothing like Paks had expected, she quickly adjusts to military life and with steady determination becomes a skilled and respected fighter. Deeply loyal to her mercenary company and the duke that they serve, Pak frequently proves herself both on the battlefield and off.

Elizabeth Moon is one of those authors whose books I’ve been meaning to read for years but I just never gotten around to doing so. When I got the chance to download the audio version of Moon’s first book, Sheepfarmer’s Daughter, I jumped at the opportunity.

Sheepfarmer’s Daughter
is narrated by Jennifer Van Dyke, who is actually the first female audio book narrator that I have listened to and who does an excellent job. Although there are quite a few side characters at certain points of the story, I never had difficulty distinguishing who the current the speaker was since Van Dyke did such a good job at individualizing each of the characters’ voices.

The story itself though did not impress me as much as the narrator did. While the book starts off on a promising note, with Paks running away from home to join a mercenary company, it soon degenerates into detailed and uninteresting descriptions of Pak’s training, fighting and marching, and not much else. Paks never really develops as a character, remaining bland and strangely na├»ve throughout the story. Paks’s wonderful virtues are also piled on a little too thickly, and while every other character eventually falls under her spell, I couldn’t see what the appeal was. Though I’m sure part of it is that whenever a dangerous situation arises, Paks is there to save the day.

What bothered me the most though was that I had been hoping for an interesting story about a young woman learning to manage in male-dominated environment, and this is not at all what the story provides. Paks’s gender and the challenges it should have presented are never brought into the story and instead Paks is turned into an asexual individual, one who is above the urges and discomforts of the average human. Why a sheepfarmer’s daughter should be completely comfortable undressing and bathing in front her male comrades is beyond me, but it made Paks harder for me to believe in or empathize with.

There is also the problem that not much really happens in the book. It’s mostly detailed descriptions of training and fighting, and sometimes marching. Occasionally there will be a dangerous situation where Paks gets to prove once again how brave and wonderful she is, all of which gets pretty tedious after a while. While there are a number of side characters, most of whom come and go, none of them came alive for me. There is a pretty high casualty rate in the book but I didn’t find myself caring too much when someone died. And there was one incident where a character is actually castrated while being tortured and his reaction, and those of his family, is so unbelievably bland that if this occurred earlier in the book I would have probably not continued listening.

While I had been looking forward to finally reading something by Elizabeth Moon I realize that her first book might not have been the best place to start. I’m sure that over the years her writing and story-telling skills have improved, so even though I didn’t particularly enjoy The Sheepfarmer’s Daughter, and have no desire to read the rest of the series, I would like to try another one of Moon’s books, though perhaps a more recent one next time.


I have the 3-in-1 omnibus The Deed of Paksenarrion at home, and yeah I only managed to read the first one, and had the same reaction. There's a lot of day-to-day training, which is OK, but gets monotonous, and after Sheepfarmer's Daughter I didn't start the second book. I've always meant to but it's been so long I think I need to REREAD the first book.

Janicu: While I don't require my books that have a romantic element, I think it would have really helped this one. As it was I didn't have any desire to read the rest of the series when I finished Sheepfarmer's Daughter, but let me know if you ever do because I would be interested in reading your reviews of the other books.

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