Forest Mage by Robin Hobb
Book 2 of the Soldier Son trilogy
Spoiler-free blabber for this book
Spoilers for book 1
This book was such a roller coaster.
Two months ago, I wrote a blabber about Shaman’s Crossing, which is the first book in this series. That book, I gave a full five stars to after some retrospection. My impulse was a 4.25, but when I couldn’t stop thinking about it, I bumped it to a 5. It’s still there and I’m happy with that rating. My thoughts of that book honestly are… pretty simple compared to this one. This book made me feel so much more.
So first of all, as per usual, I buddy-read this with Zezee @Zezeewithbooks, and we both ended up having some pretty complex emotions about this thing.
This book picks up pretty quickly after the first book ends. From my perception, there might have been a few days or maybe a week or so between them, but the scene is more or less the same as it was at the end of the first book: The academy has just gotten through a wave of the Speck plague and is in recovery. One of my favorite things about book one was the academy aspect. I really liked the dialogue on how political alliance among the old and new nobles infiltrated into how the students at the academy treated each other. So at the beginning of this book, with the plague having wiped out many people on both sides, those alliances have kind of crumbled, and a ‘we must stick together’ mindset has set in, especially among those at the academy, if not those holding political positions.
What I wasn’t expecting though, was the plot to veer away from that setting so quickly, away from the academy and in a totally different direction. First thing, is Nevare is affected by the plague in a different way than everyone else. Instead of wasting away to a skeleton of himself, he gains weight. A lot of it. This happens pretty early on and is also hinted at towards the end of the first book. At the time I didn’t think anything of it, but it becomes a central plot point and acts as a catalyst for a lot of the things that happen to Nevare further along in the book.
And I gotta tell ya, people in this book are mean to him. Like, horrendously so. He’s ridiculed by friends and family both, and society as a whole comes to see him as less. During this emotional torture, some additional things happen to Nevare that honestly border on torture porn. And at the time of reading it, it seems senseless, because he’s so passive in reacting to it. At this point in the book, both me and Zezee honestly weren’t having a great time. It was difficult to read, because Nevare, who honestly was a bit of a jerk in book one, really gets the short end of the stick, and I came to really feel for the guy. His jerky habits definitely lessen, though occasionally you can see little hints that he’s still working through his personal issues regarding them. I really liked that about this book: as passive as Nevare was, his characterization is really consistent. He grows and develops as a character, but he does so believably.
As the book progressed, we got a broader picture as to why everything was happening, and it made all the depressing things that happened make more sense, at least to the point where it no longer felt like the author was torturing the characters for no reason.
Speaking of the progression, I really liked the pacing in this. At no point did the book drag, and the speed at which we received information about the new location Nevare was in and all the unseen forces at play made for a compelling read. I really like how the magic evolved and how Nevare became more and more entwined with it.
I think my one complaint about the book that was sustained throughout the thing was the abrupt change in cast. All of the characters introduced and developed during the academy part of the book basically disappeared once Nevare ended up elsewhere. I mean, all new characters were introduced and developed but man I liked the ones we had, wah. I’m hoping they come back in book three! The few characters that did stick around, I really liked. Spink and Epiny – I love their relationship and their utter trust and honesty with each other. They’re so wholesome, communicative and healthy and it’s just such a breath of fresh air. Meaning…. I’m very worried about them come book three, as Robin Hobb tends not to let anyone have a completely happy ending. Auugh.
So overall plot-wise, while this book was definitely depressing to read, it advanced in a way that made sense for the lore set up in the world, and I overall enjoyed it. I also enjoyed the character development, particularly in Nevare, and I really liked the pacing.
With the way that book two ended, I feel like book three could take another 180 in regard to the plot, just like this book did compared to the first. I honestly can’t even guess as to where it’s gonna go or how it’s gonna end, but man I am ready for it.