Sunday, September 22, 2013

Shelf-Sitter Challenge: Book 14

Book 14 of the challenge is Sheepfarmer's Daughter by Elizabeth Moon, and it's another DNF. Should I hang my head? Again, part of the issue is that this is the first book of a series, and I am just not interested enough in the character or the story to continue through multiple books.

Sheepfarmer's Daughter is the story of Paks, a tall, robust peasant girl in a quasi-Medieval world, who escapes her father's plans to marry her off and joins the army instead. In a refreshing twist, she does not disguise herself as a man; in this world, women are allowed serve in the military, although not many choose to do so.

The story opens with Paks in mid-confrontation with her father, dramatically wielding a sword to fight her way out of his house. That is my kind of opening! Unfortunately, that is basically all the gumption Paks shows for the first 100 pages. From the moment she reaches the army recruiting tent, she stops having goals or making choices, and becomes entirely passive. She learns to march, makes some friends, avoids a couple of sexist dickwads who are out to get her, learns to use a sword, and generally adjusts to military life. We see nothing of her interior life. She's hardworking, humble, and has a long fuse; those are great qualities for a protagonist, but without insight into her fears, doubts, struggles, and flaws, she comes off as a Mary Sue.

At the end of Act I, she's the victim of an attack/set-up by the sexist dickwads-- but again she's passive, and the villains have no depth at all. I would have found it all more interesting if her own personality or choices had in some way triggered or exacerabated the situation, or if she had at least had a hand in resolving the conflict and seeking justice for the attackers. Instead, the whole thing is cleared up for her by the benevolent male commanding officers while she's recovering off-scene, which I found unsatisfying on a story-level, and also bizarrely disempowering for a series the author probably considers a feminist epic.

This challenge is making me a much tougher critic.

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