I think Elizabeth Moon has a strange dichotomy going on in her books. For the vast majority of the time they feel like idyllic pastoral pieces about a woman learning magic. Then the climax comes and they go from quaint children-appropriate fantasy to something dark and sinister and violent and maybe even a little disturbing. It becomes jolting when Paks – the main character – spends the entire book on a quest talking to glowing elves and wandering through forests and visiting with lords who all tend to kind of see things her way and are pretty nice folks and then gets captured and tortured in explicit detail for two chapter.
I don’t know then if I should say that this book is boring, or disturbing or… something else entirely. I don’t really know. Each of the other books in the series had the same sort of experience that made them seem like better books than they actually were. Moon tackles some heavier subjects than most fantasy is willing to do but she does it from a distance. It’s like instead of examining the effects of depression on a person who is expected to be a Paladin (a proverbial ray of hope to those in need) she stands back a bit and looks at somebody experiencing it. Everything feels remote.
What I’m getting at is that I think these books fail at trying to address the questions that they raise. I can heartily recommend The Speed of Dark – one of the best books I’ve read – and I really enjoyed most of her science fiction books. These fantasy books, however, left me feeling really… meh.