At the end of The Deed of Paksenarrion, the mercenary Duke Phelan discovered that he’s the heir to the Lyonan kingdom — the only kingdom jointly ruled by humans and Elves. As Oath of Fealty starts, he has to give up his dukedom and he recommends his captain Arcolin to be elevated in his place. To make things even more interesting, one of his other soldiers, Dorrin Verrakai (who had fled her family legacy decades earlier), has been called back to claim leadership of the evil Verrakai dukedom which had been seized by the king of Tsai when the previous duke tried to assassinate several members of the ruling family. As she struggles to root out the blood magic that has tainted her family holding for centuries, Stammel discovers dangerous signs that evil is encroaching on another front, far to the south, through mysterious tainted weapons and possessed followers of an evil god.
Elizabeth Moon writes epic fantasy and her Deed of Paksenarrion is frequently hailed as an heir to The Lord of the Rings because she is as interested in building a world as she is in telling a story. As Oath of Fealty starts a new trilogy in the world of Paksenarrion, it assumes a familiarity with the world and its history. Oath of Fealty actually starts before the action in The Deed of Paksenarrion ends, but retells that action from the point of view of the smaller characters who will take center stage in this installment. Therefore, a lot of the major plot points are recapped without an infodump.
Moon excels at writing real characters. As you read, you follow the characters as they react to the huge shifts in their roles and responsibilities with understandable frustration, trepidation, and pride. She crafts her work with such loving detail that the reader emotionally attaches to the characters. As well, she manages to create several distinctive cultures and societies with an attention to detail that makes them all vibrant and individual.
Oath of Fealty has a bit of FBITTSSAT syndrome — First Book In a Trilogy That Serves as a Sequel to Another Trilogy. But even with the obvious structural limitations placed upon this book by its location within the storyline, it is still an eminently well-crafted book. Reading Oath of Fealty is like watching your grandmother set out the antique chess set you have played on for years and then having her explain the new powers that all the pieces have acquired. Dukes are now kings, sergeants are now dukes, and captains are now sergeants.
And Paksenarrion… well, she’s barely in this book at all.
This is a beautiful chess set, but shifting all the characters into new roles and responsibilities means that not a lot of plot happens; however, I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed reading an introduction this much. This is the work of an artist and storyteller. Moon sets up the action and intrigue to sustain an epic trilogy while still having a complete story arc within this volume. If you have not read The Deed of Paksenarrion, I would recommend starting there. If you have read it, you will find yourselves happily slipping back into this world with no problems….
Pawn to c8.