Friday, October 19, 2012

The Deed of Paksenarrion

Author: Elizabeth Moon
Genre: Fantasy
Original Pub. Date: 1988-1989

As the person who shares living accommodations with me and five or six thousand of my closest printed friends can attest, I almost never get rid of a book. For example, there's a pile of potential discards by my desk. It's been there for, oh, two years or so, and it includes such gems as Tad Williams's Stone of Farewell, the second, please note, in a crappy fantasy series whose first book I neither own nor recall reading. It came from a thrift store, the cover's bent in half, and I think it has mold on it.

Apparently, it's only going to leave the house when it's pried from my cold, dead, ink-stained fingers.

With that context firmly in place, the one and only reason I haven't flung The Deed of Paksenarrion out of the window, drowned it in a vat of potassium hydroxide*, or taken it to Half-Price Books and then used the resulting nine cents to buy myself a much-needed aspirin, is that I haven't reviewed it yet.

Tomorrow, D of P, prepare to meet your richly deserved fate: sent in disgrace and ignominy to the nearest used book store, there to stew in your own fetid juices until some other poor fool staggers along and reads you.

To be fair, I might not be made quite so indignant by this book were it not, in fact, a trilogy printed in one massive omnibus volume precisely the size and shape of a lump of rotten eggs squished into the precise size and shape of a large trade paperback. Comprising 1024 pages of tiny print, the book could easily hold an in-depth look at something fascinating: individual monographs on each and every one of Barack Obama's hallowed nose hairs, for example, or perhaps an analysis of all urine samples taken in Minnesota since 1952. Alas, such opportunities were wasted, and we're stuck with Sheepfarmer's Daughter**, Divided Allegiance, and Oath of Gold.

It will surprise no one familiar with this trilogy to learn that their primary inspiration was the Dungeons & Dragons paladin character class. For those of you who spent your high school years*** not sitting in your mom's basement covered in cookie crumbs, beer spills, and shame, paladins are the knight in shining armor type characters, who derive their power as warriors and magic-users from their pure and noble virtues. Paksenarrion, through the course of these three masterworks of reimagining a pen and paper role-playing game's suckiest character class****, develops from an ugly, dull, strong, stupid, boring, virtuous sheepfarmer's daughter into an ugly, dull, etc. etc. Warrior of Good, and three cheers for character development, right?

It's been a while since I read this, nor would I inflict any details of the profoundly unmemorable first two books on my gentle readers even if I could. So let's just skip ahead. Quick warning to my easily grossed out readers (Hi, Mom!!): this book is an example of the ewwww trend in fantasy I mumble about on occasion.

In the third book, Oath of Delivering My Manuscript on Time, Paksenarrion has offered yon loyal troth or whatever to some hot young king who treats her like furniture. I think this was supposed to be a clever post-feminist reversal of the classic Medieval trope of a pure knight and his platonic courtly-love relationship with a beautiful lady in whose name he sallies forth and kills ogres and whatnot. Honestly, I found the whole relationship between the two utterly embarrassing and sad.

On the other hand, if Paksenarrion's deeds had been limited to yon ogre-slaying, you know, that would have been cool. There are a few good gender-bending chicks in this sort of story; I'm particularly fond of "The Girl Who Pretended To Be a Boy" (out of Andrew Lang's The Violet Fairy Book). Most recently, there's George R.R. Martin's character Brienne of Tarth, who's marginally less stupid, although just as much a cliché, as his others.

But no. Paksenarrion goes along, taking names and kicking ass, and for some reason staying in love with yon  pretty-boy, and then for no actual reason at all -- I mean NONE, guys, it's completely unnecessary -- she lets herself get captured by a bunch of orcs.

Who then gang-rape her for most of the rest of the book. Yep. That's her deed, right there. Getting raped by orcs. For a long time. Many, many pages, so many pages that I wondered how Elizabeth Moon had the stamina to type so many scenes of orc-rape*****. Hell, I started to wonder how the orcs had that much stamina.

That's the deed. That's IT. And then, no longer virginal****** but proud to have . . . honest to God, I really don't know what, or whom, all that orc-rape was in service of. She escapes, and the king's like, "Dude, sorry you were gang-raped by filthy monsters and stuff when you really didn't need to be . . . how about a nice shiny medal, 'cause I'm going to marry this hot virgin who's never been raped by an orc?" And she's like, "WOW! I wuvs you 4evah!" And the audience is like, "What the bloody hell just happened?"

Half a star.

* No chemical critiques, please, that's just what I happen to have in the garage.

** Nope, not going where you think it's going. Wish it had.

*** And, ahem, perhaps many other years too, but we won't go there . . .

**** OK, dude, fine, rangers suck marginally more. But only a little, and only because they can't use plate armor and still have all their abilities.

***** I also had the impression that the orc-rape wasn't supposed to be titillating. Not that orcs raping people is necessarily my cup of tea, but if it was meant to be exciting, then I guess I could get behind that, so to speak. Moon seems to have intended a holy martyrdom sort of experience rather than a boom-chicka-wow-wow kind of experience, and so I was doubly baffled. Truly, I didn't understand the purpose of the orc-rape; as far as I could tell, it didn't actually accomplish . . . anything, even a brief flicker of guilty pleasure for the less respectable sort of reader.

****** Understatement of the century.

1 comment:

  1. I just finished the books again and I'm baffled by your review. Have you even read the book? She is never captured by orcs, it was by dark elves in the 2nd book. She was not raped by Orcs, those were not in the dungeon in the 3rd book, only later in the battle. The reasons for her letting her getting captured are crystal clear. Either you have not read the book or are lacking fundamental reading capabilities, which then is funny, because you choose to review books. Sheesh...