Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Sorting out Elizabeth Moon’s Oeuvre

So, do you even know how many books Elizabeth Moon has out there? I knew it was a lot, but it occurred to me again because I was thinking about The Speed of Dark and how enormously different it is from her other work.

She has nearly 30 novels out, that’s how many. Wow.

Also, she is one of the authors who is just all over the place when it comes to how much I like a particular book. Andrea K Höst? I’d rank all of hers from about seven stars to ten stars. Martha Wells? Again, about seven to ten stars. CJC? About seven to ten generally, but with a couple falling into the one- to two-star range. Barbara Hambly, just about the same, plenty I really like a lot and just a couple I detest.

Elizabeth Moon has several I just love, quite a few I like, and then a whole bunch I . . . sort of feel meh about. Essentially all the time (but not quite), the “meh” books are the ones where the pov scatters hither and yon, so that there is no real protagonist. I just have a hard time with those; I don’t care enough about the characters. When Moon sticks to just one protagonist, I get drawn in much more strongly, as a rule. So if you’re familiar with Elizabeth Moon’s work, I bet you can now predict pretty easily which books of hers will tend to wind up on top. There are some exceptions, though, both ways — books I just don’t like that much even though they have one important protagonist and books I like much better even though the pov scatters. The protagonist thing is a tendency, not an iron-clad rule.

Okay, so, let’s do this.

Right on the top of the whole genre:

Speed of Dark. Of course. This standalone near-future SF novel is a total masterpiece. The voice! The sentence-level writing! The storytelling! And yes, very most especially the voice, which is just flawlessly rendered. Have you all read this book? If yes, surely you agree. If no, what are you waiting for? (!!!???)

Great:

The original Paksennarion trilogy. A nearly flawless military fantasy story, starting when Paks is a new recruit and going all the way through to her ultimate assumption of the duties and powers of a paladin. A classic hero’s journey character arc in a story that’s told exceptionally well, from the sentence level all the way up to the broad strokes of storytelling.

Hunting Party, which is the first of the Heris Serrano space operas. This is one of novels that to me symbolizes the rebirth of space opera: adventure stories involving spaceships, but with perhaps more attention paid to characterization than the earlier space opera. Plus, in this case, horses.

Very good:

The other two Heris Serrano novels, Sporting Chance and Winning Colors.

The first Vatta’s war series, five books starting with Trading in Danger and starring Ky Vatta as the first and most important protagonist. This series moved fast enough, and the secondary protagonists held my interest enough, that when the pov began to branch out I continued to find them engaging. In some ways this series reminds me of the Chanur series by CJC, except all the characters are human, obviously. And the situation isn’t as dire. And, well, everything is different, actually, but in some ways the two series still seem alike to me. Feel, I suppose, and the sense of increasing urgency, and Ky’s relationship with the eventual male lead reminds me of Pyanfar’s relationship with one of the mehendo’sat — I mean the tension between trust and mistrust on both sides.

Good:

The Gird duology. For some reason, even though there is just one primary protagonist, and even though I liked him, I still never connected to this duology the way I connected to the Paksennarion trilogy. Too slow? But then I often like slow-paced novels. But these, well, not as much. I read them a couple of times, but not with any great enthusiasm. I don’t know why.

Okay, I guess:

The Esmey Suiza duology, the new Vatta’s Peace books, and the Paladin’s Legacy series.

The biggest problem with these is, yes, the proliferating number of pov characters. In some cases I just do not find most of the pov characters interesting.

For example, in the Paladin’s Legacy quintolgy, I didn’t care about Arcolin — I still can’t understand why Elizabeth Moon didn’t choose to focus on the wounded soldier Arcolin recruits as a new captain. I though he was by far in the best position to carry that plotline. I didn’t care about Phelan, except that the Lady of the Elves was acting like such a complete nitwit and she was right there in his sections of the novel, so I disliked many of his scenes. I liked Dorrin okay, but my favorite, hand’s down, was Arvid the thief, and he got very little time on stage compared to some of the others.

This is the kind of situation that makes it hard to maintain interest in a story — too many characters I don’t care about, plus details I actively dislike (the Lady is an IDIOT), plus details in the worldbuilding that make no sense, and there we go, I lose interest, give away the first couple-three books of the series, and go on to some other series by some other author. I had similar problems with all the books in this category, though in Ky Vatta’s continuing series, the IDIOT role is played by various subordinates who aren’t that important except for their role in occasionally saying incredibly stupid things. (But surely you don’t think someone’s out to get you, just because your shuttle was shot down and your survival suit was sabotaged?)

Haven’t Read:

I actually turned out to have missed out on several of Elizabeth Moon’s books, including the Planet Pirates trilogy and Remnant Population. If you’ve read those, what did you think?

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5 Comments Sorting out Elizabeth Moon’s Oeuvre

  1. Rachel

    Having an older woman as the protagonist does make me more likely to try the book. If you haven’t read Hunting Party, so does that one.

  2. rilkefan

    I just read all the Vatta books (except the last, having disliked the penultimate) – they start well but there’s too much recapitulation and oohing over Ky, and her cousin is just too annoying, and the genius kid overturning all of science …

    The Paks trilogy is great – I don’t quite know why. Maybe because it’s written with deep belief in the material. My one quibble is the last chapter or two being a letdown.

    Tanya Huff is an interesting compare/contrast with Moon. Military SF and very different fantasy novels. I quite liked some of the Valor books, and the first Quarters book at least is very well written.

  3. Rachel

    Tanya Huff’s Torin Kerr series is probably my favorite military SF series, and Moon’s Paksenarrion trilogy is my favorite military fantasy, so it would be interesting to lay them side by side for a comparison. I have never gotten that into Huff’s fantasy. It’s a bit hard to see why, since I agree with you that some of them are well written.

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