Forest Mage by Robin Hobb | Blabber

Forest Mage (Soldier Son, #2)Forest Mage by Robin Hobb
Book 2 of the Soldier Son trilogy
718 pages
Fantasy
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.

4.25 stars

Shaman’s Crossing by Robin Hobb | Blabber

 

Shaman's Crossing (Soldier Son, #1)Shaman’s Crossing by Robin Hobb
Book 1 of the Solider Son trilogy
577 pages
Fantasy
Spoiler-free blabber

After finishing Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings world I was left pining for it. For the characters, the world, the plot, the sheer depth of it all. After letting it sit for a bit, I picked this up, hoping it would fill the void. And I gotta say, I think it has.

Shaman’s Crossing is not an Elderlings book, first off, and it doesn’t pretend to be one. It starts from the ground up, crafting an all new world, characters, magic systems, and political strife. Shaman’s Crossing is a wholly different book, but to me, I could still see the Robin Hobb-y-ness of it all, and I quickly became smitten with the thing.

This book follows Nevare, a second son of a second son, destined to  a soldier, as he grows and learns that the world around him is not what he had anticipated. The story begins with Nevare as a child, where he lives with his father, a soldier-turned-lord, on the frontier of quote unquote “civilized” society and the unclaimed lands, populated with magical people known as the Plainsmen. Nevare as a child is innocent to the existing prejudices and political pressure existing in his world. He gets hints of it here and there but being a child, he’s not fully comprehending what he’s seeing. As the reader, you can fully grasp what’s going on while Nevare cannot, and it creates a sense of unease.

As the book continues, Nevare grows older, and social roles are cemented into his head. The social system in this book is very patriarchal, and Nevare just flows along with it. At first, once he was grown, I found him frustrating with how ingrained this patriarchy was in his head. Robin Hobb being Robin Hobb though obviously wasn’t gonna let that lie: she’s the queen of character development after all.

Nevare finds himself placed in a military academy and immediately his mental schemas of how the world works and who fills what roles are challenged. He finds himself constantly realizing that yes, he’s a bit of a dick, and no, people don’t fit into these stereotypical boxes like he thought they did. With every chapter, Nevare’s expectations of the world crack just a bit more, and it was really great seeing him mentally process all of the new interactions and people he met that didn’t quite fit in his interpretation of his country.

The magic system(s?) too, are really cool. Shamanic in origin, they deal with spirits, spirit worlds and how they can entwine the physical realm, influence it, and even force it to change. Robin Hobb blended the metaphysical with the physical in a way that was enthralling, and tied it in with the social norms of the world so well.

It plays on one’s reluctance to admit to anything supernatural, it plays with established religion versus spiritualism, it plays with feelings of religious doubt, it plays with seeing proof before one’s very eyes and still not wanting to admit that one is wrong.

It plays with people’s reaction to the inevitable, when they see it happening and choose to ignore or disbelieve it. Funny how fiction imitates life.

For a first book in a brand new series, it touches on a lot: prejudice and racism, sexism, patriarchy, fatphobia, colonialism, occultism, spiritualism, bullying, classism, and a lot more.

The story as well is compelling. It was as rich as a Robin Hobb book normally is, and was just as inviting. Even though I mentioned I had frustrations with the main character, I also cared about him too. As the plot played out, I found myself worrying for him, even when I wasn’t actively reading the book. The side characters were well put together, and each brought something new and unique into Nevare’s world.

Originally I rated this books a 4.25. And honestly I’ve been sitting on this rating for a while, thinking about whether or not it was the right call. I buddy read this with Zezee @Zezeewithbooks, and she gave it a full 5 I believe. I finished this book probably last month or so, and having sat with it and thought on it, and having found myself being brought back to it over and over again across the past few weeks, I think I agree with her, actually. This book was definitely a five stars. The initial experience was great, but the after-effects, the way it stuck in my mind, made it even better.

I’m starting the second one here imminently, and wanted to get my thoughts out before they melded together with this next book’s. So here we are, and once again, Robin Hobb has swept me off my feet.

5 stars