A familiar to me trilogy; this is probably my third or fourth read through.
The first book, Sheepfarmer’s Daughter, was very strong. Moon builds a realistic feeling world; it has a technological feel similar to the middle ages/stock fantasy, but the political structures vary. There’s also magic… but this is a grittier world, with magic mostly on the sidelines.
What’s particularly good about this–or, at least what is presented convincingly to me–is the soldier’s eye view, beginning with basic training. It has a fantasy gloss, but concentrates on the details–the drill, tedium, and lifestyle. The book is tough on its characters; they’re mercenaries, fighting in war, and anyone can die. That emphasizes the low-key feel of the world, even when it becomes more driven and magical in the second half.
The second book, Divided Allegiance is still well written and grounded. It suffers a bit, as Paks quickly leaves a military setting and flounders a bit in her choice of companions. Brewersridge proves a great way station in the center of the book; Paks’ adjustments and changes get worked through nicely. Once she’s off to Fin Panir the book changes tone again, and again once they’re on quest. It’s a series of tricky transitions; I rooted for Paks to make it through, to adjust to each new setting… but there is a bit of repetition to the feel, since she keeps having to start from scratch in new contexts.
The end of the second book is horrible; it prompts you to immediately pick up the third book, to reassure yourself that the end isn’t as bitter as we’ve experienced. It’s hard to imagine waiting a year with that depth of disappointment… I wonder how many people abandoned the series after book 2, unwilling to pick the series up a year later when book 3 came out due to a hazy memory of distaste left by the ending.
Once you’re past that, the third book, Oath of Gold gets things back on track pretty quickly. Pak’s unusual path, including her crippling by fear and pain and its unusual healing, strongly sets her on a “not your typical Paladin” path. Her investigation, fumbling, dedication and final sacrifice (and its odd side effects) all combine to make her a very non-standard in SF hero. Very well done, as a trilogy–I really enjoy the series.