Elizabeth Moon’s first book was The Deed of Paksenarrion, a remarkable novel (originally published as three books) in which the heroine develops from an 18-year old volunteer in a mercenary company to a paladin, a soldier for the gods. At the conclusion of Deed, Paks has found the lost king of a country and restored him to his rightful throne, and learned a great deal about the harrowing price a paladin must pay in service to those gods.
A much more mature Elizabeth Moon revisited Paksenarion’s Deed in the five volume Paladin’s Legacy series, recently concluded with Crown of Renewal. The Paladin’s Legacy series explores the consequences of Deed. While Paksenarrion restored a lost king, she also necessarily disrupted the life of everyone with whom she came in contact. The country of her birth; the mercenary company she had joined; the Fellowship of Gird, the religion she joined; even the Thieves’ Guild’s chief enforcer. Everyone whose life Paks touched was changed.
Paladin’s Legacy is the story of what happens after the heroine rides off into the sunset.
Across the five volumes of Paladin’s Legacy – Oath of Fealty, Kings of the North, Echoes of Betrayal, Limits of Power and Crown of Renewal – we watch the ripples from Deed roil and disrupt her world. There is a truly lovely scene in the fourth volume, Limits of Power, in which Paks is greeted by Dragon as “sister and daughter.” Paks, who is still charmingly naive in many ways, puzzles over why a dragon – the Dragon, really – calls her sister and daughter and why it somehow feels true, even though she also knows who her sheepfarmer family is. But in Moon’s richly imagined world, Dragon is transformation. Not just the magical business of transforming between a man and a dragon, an aspect Moon brings off brilliantly. Not just transformation of the unwise from life to small, smoking piles of ash. But transformation of the world itself.
Which is part of the reason WC thinks Moon is a thinking reader’s fantasy literature writer.
Legacy isn’t about Paksenarrion, although she appears in all the books and plays several important roles. Legacy‘s shifting narrative foci are those whose lives have been inadvertently changed by Paks. They include her sergeant in her former mercenary company, whose actions in the first chapters of Deed lead to immense change in his life. Her commander, Duke Kieri Phelan, perhaps the person affected most by Paks’ Deed, must undergo immense change if he is to survive and his two peoples prosper. Arvid, the thief with whom Paks briefly adventured in this middle parts of Deed must undergo wrenching change when he, too, is gods-touched in the course of Legacy.
Moon also delights in confounding your expectations. She’s not above setting up an apparent crisis only to turn the crisis into an anti-climax, disguising – literally and figuratively – the real problem. And Moon isn’t about happy endings; characters you have come to like meet sad ends. Change can be and is sometimes painful. Moon is highly skilled at plotting, linking events in earlier books to subsequent events in astonishing ways.
Moon’s carefully developed world is a place of absolute good and absolute evil. There are gods who grant their power to their clerics in return for torture and torment; there are gods who reward good. Her world is peopled with humans, elves, dwarfs, gnomes (an especially fascinating and well-developed race in Legacy), orcs, gods, saints and demons. There are different kinds of magic and different kinds of magic-wielders. There is a deep history – a history that plays an important role in Legacyˆ – and, without anything as crass as outright allegory, there are lessons in that history that bear on the real world today.
This is a good as fantasy gets. A worthy heir to Tolkien (and a better writer) who has both important messages and the skills to tell a terrific story. WC’s highest recommendation.