What I Learned From Elizabeth Moon

Longtime readers of my blog(s) know that one of my favorite books of all time is The Deed of Paksennarion, which I think of as one book because I read it in an omnibus edition. I have reread the entire series more times than I can count. And without a doubt, what I learned from it was point of view.

The execution wasn’t perfect, especially in the first book. The few times Moon shifted out of Paks point-of-view was quite a jolt to me as a reader. But the reason why is clear–I was so immersed in Paks point-of-view that to shift out of it required a bit of an effort.

The book begins as Paks runs away from home to join a mercenary company. A mercenary company is simply an army-for-hire. It starts with Paks as absolutely green–she has only held a sword before. She is taller than most women, but no stronger, and no better at the warrior arts than anyone else. In other words, she is an ordinary soldier.

The series is about her journey from being ordinary to extraordinary, from soldier to paladin. When you think of a paladin, think of an idealized knight, like Lancelot or Galahad.

Here’s a random quote from the opening chapters, with deep point-of-view passages bolded:

Paksenarrion lay quietly as Maia cleaned and poulticed her thighs; a large, cool poultice already covered the swollen half of her face. She’s been given a mug of beef broth and a half-mug of numbwine, and she felt as if she were floating a handspan above her head. She heard the door open, and saw Maia glance up.

Notice the point-of-view stays on Paks even when it is Maia who takes the action. Here’s another selection, a few lines down.

Paks swallowed and tried to speak. Not much sound came out. She tried to look at Kolya, but found she couldn’t turn her head. Kolya suddenly appeared beside the bed. Paks blinked her good eye. She had not really looked at the witness before. Now she noticed black hair streaked with gray, black eyes, dark brows angled across a tan, weathered face. She blinked again, her eyes dropping to Kolya’s broad shoulders, her arm–the sleeve of her robe covered the stump of her left arm.

See how we become Paks? Everything is told through her eyeballs, except for very infrequent POV breaks. To prove it, I opened the book to the second volume, and my eye landed on this paragraph:

Paks tried to hide her feelings, tried to argue herself into calm. She had spoken out once–that was enough for any private. As long as she wore her Duke’s colors, she owed him obedience. He was a good man; had always been honorable … she thought of the High Marshal and wished she had never met him.Β  He had raised questions she didn’t want to answer. Surely the Duke’s service was worth a little discomfort, even this unease.

Not only are we still in Paks head, but the language remains completely transparent. It never calls attention to itself. You don’t spend much time thinking of the author’s writing, even to admire her prose. You are simply lost in the story. Here, in the simplest language possible, we feel Paks moral ambiguousness. You know, even though she argued herself into putting up with the unease, that it is not over yet. And indeed, this is the beginning of Book 2, where many more quandaries of right vs. wrong presents itself.

Further on in book 2, Paks has a minor mission to fulfill, a delivery to make. Paks is told to deliver a message to a certain person, and the reader knows who it is. Later, however, she is bespelled, and her memory is replaced with another mission. The reader is not told that she is bespelled; simply Paks goes to do something else instead of the original mission. I, the reader, of course, still have my memories, and when she is going to someone else to deliver messages, I was frantically back-paging to see if I remembered it right. And I did. I wondered if the author had screwed up. I was left as clueless as Paks was–even worse, because I knew what should have happened, but Paks just thought this was what she was supposed to do.

But I trusted the author, so I read on. Hundreds of pages went by, and I forgot the incident as I was caught up in the story. Then, toward the end of Book 2, I reached this little scene.

This next example contains a minor but awe-inspiring spoiler, so if you want to read the novels, you might not want to highlight the following text. I would hate to ruin this moment for you. If you’ve read it, or don’t think you’ll read the story, go ahead and highlight this:

Paks is captured by an enemy that she hardly knows exists. A dark elf is taunting her:

“… Perhaps, also, you have been used by those you think your friends. Certainly the elves have not treated you fairly, stealing from you and clouding your memory.” He reached out quickly and laid a cold, dry hand along her brow. As suddenly as light springs into a dark closet, she remembered the Halveric’s scroll that she had sworn to take to his wife in Lyonya–and remembered the elves who had sent her instead to Brewersbridge, to take their messages, while they took the scroll. The iynisi smiled and nodded.

Not a word, not a hint in all this time that anything was amiss, and the author even taking upon herself the risk of looking incompetent, all so she could deliver this gem late in that book. It’s fabulous.

If you’re struggling with point-of-view, I highly recommend this series. It begins with Sheepfarmer’s Daughter, then goes on to Divided Allegiance, and concludes with Oath of Gold. Recently, Elizabeth Moon came out with another book in this series, Oath of Fealty, which is from the point-of-view of a minor character in The Deed. I’ll mention it here when I start reading it. You can read more about Elizabeth Moon at her website, where I see she has another book out this March.

11 thoughts on “What I Learned From Elizabeth Moon

  1. I think I’ve read the series a dozen times and the story never gets old for me. I just read Oath of Fealty and loved it as well. I can’t wait for the next book to come out!

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  2. You picked some great examples of POV there. I think it’s a lot harder to not shift when one is dealing with third person.

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    • As far as the examples go, they were totally random except the last one. The POV was that consistent. I had to write an entire novel in 1st person before I was able to write in deep third POV.

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      • I guess that is tricky. I’m not sure how much I’ve tried. Tho I wrote primarily in first-person for several years. I wonder if that might help. None were novels, but none are novels now. {Smile}

        Anne Elizabeth Baldwin

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  3. The Deed of Paksenarrion is one of my all time favourite books. I’m on my 3rd omnibus edition, and I have an e-book version too. But, I’d never looked at it like this, only enjoyed reading the book.

    Thanks for making me look at it in a different way (and one that’ll probably just increase my enjoyment).

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  4. So the scroll thing has haunted me for a while. While it seems like the later revelation is retcon, it was in the same book. She could have fixed it before publishing… so… I guess what bugs me is that you never find out why the elves did it. Why? WHY?

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    • Good question. I have a feeling the answer might be: because it was convenient to the author.

      Ouch. But a lot of the actions the elves (and to a lesser extent the dwarves) take seemed arbitrary and poorly explained. They were just mysterious and did incomprehensible stuff. πŸ˜€

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