Oath of Gold     I enjoyed Oath of Gold, the third in “The Deed of Paksenarrion” trilogy and getting to know Elizabeth Moon’s early fantasy side. It has been remarkable to watch the evolution of her writing style. She seemed to have found her stride during this the final chapter of Paks’s story and Paks truly stepped out to become round and dynamic. The dialogue felt more authentic and the predominantly human versus human conflicts extremely satisfying.
     On that note, a thought came to me as I finished the book. Was the dialogue an issue for me because Moon was still developing her skill or was it a purposeful device to support Paks growing from a young country girl naïve in the ways of world to a full grown woman tried, tested and sharpened by harsh experience? As I reflect on the trilogy as a whole, I plan to keep this thought in mind when I next read a fantasy. To answer the question here would take a second read of the trilogy and my reading list is too long for that. Another tantalizing tidbit gleaned from Moon’s website is the suggestion that trilogy was first written as a single long story, broken up “…for practical purposes…” I can only imagine this means for publications sake. Did Moon’s skill evolve more organically then rather than in stages? Or are my own observations too amateur and arm-chair in nature?
     As intended, Moon’s exploration of the military-religious mind set was thought provoking. I am always torn between wanting the authentic ring of the ever-compromising human mindset and a craving for a clear cut conflict between good and evil and a champion clear of mind and purpose. Paks seemed to reflect more of the later than the former in her perception of right and wrong, which was alright by me. Her need to come to grips with the reality of human suffering however—the feelings of those who cannot wield weapons in their own defense due to status, class, economic or training limitations—I thought was a great touch and satisfied the former.
     We (and I use the term very loosely) are so jaded against those with a singleness of vision. We fear the power it gives them and its possible abuse. Templars come immediately to mind. I wonder, however, how much of the negative reputation gained by such holy warriors was not the result of the greedy men and woman who commanded them; who, though purporting a veneer of religious intent, were truly concerned with narcissistic gain and infected with megalomania. What resulted was an order of knights fed at an infected teat and as far from the Grail model they dreamed of as one could be. Our opinion of such is further influenced by our own political leaders who have failed us time and time again…and continue to do so, unable to agree on anything, behaving in a fashion no recess-monitor would tolerate on the playground let alone the halls of congress. The scope of this musing does not allow for much more than idle thoughts, but it is a tantalizing thread.
     I still felt put off by the use of elves, dwarves, gnomes and orcs as too crutch-like, unnecessary for an enjoyable story. I think it would have been more exciting had she kept such at a minimum and relied predominantly on exotic human constructs or developed her own races and species as she did with some of the creatures Paks encountered. Again, I realize this was the rage at the time of publication—witness the Dragonlance saga. I also realize it is most probably my own tastes which are involved here—thousands of RPG inspired novel readers can’t all be wrong.
      So…what has this modern master taught me or reminded me of that I should keep in mind?
     I love a good bildungsroman. I love reading about characters going through a process of both structured growth as well as growth and evolvement that is experience based. Paks satisfies both categories as she undergoes her military training in the first book; her spiritual training in the second and the harrowing ordeals of the world’s training ground in the third. Over and over again, I am reminded of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. I note that this predilection is on my HTTS’ “Sweet Spot Map” as one of the things I’m drawn to.
     In relation to the above, it was satisfying to read as Paks learned from her experiences and to place them as filters over the past. The changing POV and her notice of it lent another layer of authenticity to her characterization.
     Paying attention to dialogue is important. Though the honeymoon phase between reader and author is a real as it is brief, authentic dialogue, reflective of a character’s experience and place, is important from the start. I’ll need to look into this very carefully and be wary of it.
     A book that provokes thinking is always good. I would rather write one like that than one wherein my reader smiles, has a good read and promptly forgets they ever read it.