Oath of Fealty by Elizabeth Moon

Published by Del Rey
ISBN 978-0-3455-0874-4
March 16, 2010 
496 Pages

Elizabeth Moon is one of the brand names writing Science Fiction and Fantasy today who has shown the ability to easily jump between the sibling sub-genres. She’s received awards, sold a lot of books, and has an impressive fan base. While her recent novels have firmly been of the Science Fiction variety, the trilogy that launched her career is the popular and acclaimed Deed of Paksenarrion trilogy.  This latest novel, Oath of Fealty is set shortly after the events that closed out the trilogy, published over twenty years ago.

Briefly, the Paladin Paks found a hidden heir to the Elven Throne, a man whose mother was an Elf, which is enough to make him a legitimate heir.  Much of Oath of Fealty deals with the ramifications of those events and in some ways, looks at a world “after the quest has been completed.”  In that sense, Oath of Fealty is a good entrance point for readers, much like myself, who haven’t read the popular trilogy.

A good portion of the novel deals with that adjustment to a shaking of the status quo. The new ruler in question is Kieri Phelan the land he now finds under his rule Lyonya, a land of elves, so in a large sense, he is an outsider.  He is also a former duke and mercenary captain, so his major adjustment is to a life with a little less day-to-day violence.

Dorrin, a trusted soldier in Kieri’s army and friend to Paksenarrion, takes over his Kierie’s eadership role.  Though her track record as an accomplished warrior and soldier is largely unquestioned, no woman has ever been bestowed with the title of Duke. Furthermore, Dorrin is told she must enter the kingdom of her birth, a kingdom that has shunned and cast her out of their realm.  Though it might be considered a bit of sweet revenge and poetic justice that she’s to return and clean up the kingdom, it makes it no less easy on her part.  Moon, again, handles the internal struggle Dorrin experiences quite well and makes believable the unique position in which she finds herself. 

Through her characters, Moon makes the world breathe and come alive.  The magic is handled particularly well in that it isn’t thrown around as simply another tool or a means to an end.  It is treated with respect and in many cases, fear.  This is particularly true in the case of Dorrin and her connection to magic. Here, Moon provides a good balance between curiosity and fear – fear of abusing the power, fear of becoming seduced by it, and fear of becoming like the people of her clan who banished her.

While I can’t compare Oath of Featly to the earlier books set in this world in any way, I can say the book was well written and really had me hooked once Dorrin fully asserted herself as Duke.  It was an exhilarating scene and the sense of nervousness Dorren felt was counterbalanced by her own assertiveness when she finally made her power as Duke known to those who challenged it.  While this occurred towards the middle of the book, it carried on very nicely through to the end of the novel.

Oath of Fealty is enough of a fresh start in the world Moon created over twenty years ago to keep new readers (like myself) engaged throughout without having to rely on the history told in those books. I expected more action and sword-fighting (although action and physical altercations are present and engaging), but the story deals more with political and courtly maneuvering and is an engrossing read nonetheless. I will even say it is a case of expectations not being met, but in an entirely satisfying manner and I don’t think I’d want to book to have worked any other way. I was very pleased to meet characters who were well rounded, strong, admirable, believable and engaging.  In this respect, Mrs. Moon met (and at points exceeded) the expectations I had based on the reputation for strong characters that preceded her. I already have The Deed of Paksenarrion omnibus on my shelf waiting to be read and having finished Oath of Fealty has only pushed it higher on the proverbial “to read” pile.

© 2010 Rob H. Bedford

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