Saturday, September 12, 2015
Triple Whammy Book Review: The Solider Son Trilogy by Robin Hobb
Every moment of Nevare Burvelle’s life has been planned. As the second son of a nobleman, he’s destined to be a soldier. He’ll attend the King’s Cavalla Academy to learn to be an officer. He’ll serve, and eventually, he will marry the woman his parents have chosen for him. Nevare has never been one to question the lot in life his religion has laid out for him. But part of the training his father has arranged for him is to learn from Dawarra, a Plainsman and an enemy of Nevare’s kingdom. Dawarra’s people were conquered recently, beaten back so the king could expand his territory. Dawarra has no love for Nevare’s family, since it was Nevare’s own father who shot Dawarra with an iron bullet, robbing him of magic. The plainsman teaches Nevare survival and other useful things, but he has his own plans. He takes Nevare into a dream-like world, planning to use him to redeem Dawarra’s own failings against another enemy of the Plains People. But Nevare’s training in courtesy and the cavalla’s honor code prevent him from attacking this enemy, an old woman. Now, she has taken something from him and left her mark. Nevare finds himself doubting his actions. Is he who he’s supposed to be? Who does he have to blame for his failings but himself? What is it his cousin sees when she tricks him into a seance?
And worse, is the plague that hits the Academy and the surrounding city his fault?
Nevare Burvelle was destined from birth to be a soldier. The second son of a newly anointed nobleman, he must endure the rigors of military training at the elite King’s Cavella Academy—and survive the hatred, cruelty, and derision of his aristocratic classmates—before joining the King of Gernia’s brutal campaign of territorial expansion. The life chosen for him will be fraught with hardship, for he must ultimately face a forest-dwelling folk who will not submit easily to a king’s tyranny. And they possess an ancient magic their would-be conquerors have long discounted—a powerful sorcery that threatens to claim Nevare Burvelle’s soul and devastate his world once the Dark Evening brings the carnival to Old Thares.
The world surrounding Nevare and his life is a lush one, full of societies at odds with one another. The Plains People hate the Specks, the neighboring people of Lansing have taken a good deal of coastal territory from Nevare’s king, the king’s military have fought back the Plains People, and worse, now there is civil unrest among Nevare’s people. King Trovan elevated some of the most prominent soldiers to lords, giving them lands in the newly-conquered territory despite the protests of his old noble families. It is a stressful time to be a growing soldier-in-training. The world turns, and Nevare is having enough trouble dealing with what’s going on in his own little world without having to worry about what his position will be like once he’s a schooled officer.
There’s more than enough conflict in Nevare’s own life to deal with, but that isn’t stopping the world from turning around him. If that isn’t real life, I don’t know what is.
Hobb’s writing style meshes so well with my reading style that it’s scary. Hobb is no stranger to giving description and playing with the senses, but where she really wins— at least in my opinion— is in dialogue and introspection. The interactions Nevare has with both friends and rivals at the Academy are stellar. Even better, her words really put the reader into Nevare’s head. It’s difficult not to be Nevare, even if he’s not at all like the reader. I am not one for the blind faith Nevare has, but during the course of the book, I found myself sinking further and further into just being him. Even if you don’t agree with him, you cannot help but understand him.
I wouldn’t call Hobb’s writing style simplistic by any means. It’s not overly flowery, though. It’s suitable. It’s perfect for the world she’s built. She gives what is needed for the story, what’s appropriate for the telling. Honestly, it feels to me like it was written by Nevare himself rather than someone else. The whole of this novel is stunning, really. The world is as it is, and Hobb has written it so cunningly that I, as a reader, did not feel like I was looking through a window at it. It’s not strange, because it is home. That is a feat difficult to reproduce. Any anachronisms of Nevare’s world compared to my own are nonexistent. When I’m reading the book, I am there. It’s that simple.
I cannot gush enough about how I love this book. I first read it a few years ago, but as my own life and views have changed, I wondered if it was as good as I remembered. What a fool I was for doubting. With this one novel, Hobb easily joins the list of authors to admire and study. I can tell you from experience reading a fair few other novels that she more than earns and keeps that place. She’s one of my favorite authors for a reason.
For this novel alone, I can’t help but feel awe and admiration. It’s a bold foundation for the trilogy, making a world so complete in itself that it almost makes my own perceptions of my world seem false. The awareness Nevare has of what’s going on around him, whether from his own perceptions or what he learns from others, is staggering. Just what his world does to him, how civil changes in his lifetime try to stamp him and others like him down while faith urges him to persevere, is astonishing. Robb has crafted a setting and population that are so real it’s almost unfathomable. And at the same time, it’s only right that it should all be this way. It doesn’t feel like a novel. It feels like we’ve just received a real story from another world… and I for one am grateful to have it. It is, to put it simply, masterfully crafted and worth a read. So what are you waiting for?
Would I Recommend This Book? Highly. Hobb has crafted a full world and fitting characters with real thoughts and souls. The balance between Nevare’s personal struggles and the world’s drains on him is masterfully handled, and the story itself is just amazing. I give Shaman’s Crossing a newly-raised 5 of 5 stars.
The Speck Plague decimated the ranks of the Gernian military and the Academy Nevare Burvelle attends. In the aftermath, life is looking up. Many of the plague's survivors are shadows of what they once were, skeletal and weaker than the strong young men they used to be. Nevare, on the other hand, is doing very well in his recovery. In fact, he's having an opposite reaction. Nevare is putting on weight, fast. His uniform is getting tighter, and despite still being active and eating standard rations, he continues to add girth.
His weight gain is cause for great concern and disappointment from his father. Determined to get Nevare back into a suitable state of fitness, he all but imprisons and starves Nevare. But the weight gain continues. The magic that made Nevare give the sign to release the Speck Plague isn't done with him, it seems. It's holding onto him and not letting go. Nevare's continued fight with the magic seems set on burning Nevare's life behind him. The Specks are looking for him, tempting him to join them. They seem to have answers.
The forest is calling Nevare.
Plague has ravaged the prestigious King’s Cavalla of Gernia, decimating the ranks of both cadets and instructors. Yet Nevare Burvelle has made an astonishingly robust recovery, defeating his sworn nemesis while in the throes of the disease and freeing himself—he believes—from the Speck magic that infected him. And now he is journeying home to Widevale, anticipating a tender reunion with his beautiful fiancée, Carsina, and a bright future as a commissioned officer.
But there is no haven in the bosom of his kinfolk, for his nights are haunted by grim visions of treachery—and his days are tormented by a strange side-effect of the plague that shames his family and repulses the lady of his heart. And as the still-potent magic in his blood roars to life, Nevare realizes a terrible truth: that the enemy who seeks to destroy everything he loves dwells perhaps not without but within him.
Forest Mage follows right on the heels of the events of Shaman's Crossing. Even so, things have changed in Gernia. The changes in the world around Nevare are extensive but make perfect sense. Hobb clearly put a lot of thought into how things happen in this world. Even the necessary recap of events from the first book are so skillfully handled that it's almost unnoticeable. She brings readers back up to speed flawlessly, without it dragging down the narrative of the new book beginning.
The world both expands and shrinks during the courst of Forest Mage. The reader can expect to learn more about history and current events in Gernia, while at the same time, Nevare's world grows smaller. His future is dimming, the poosibilities of his life dying out thanks to what's happening to his body. It's stunning how well Hobb centers an entire world around one little piece without him getting lost, and without the world moving without him.
Hobb's style is dramatic, intimate, exciting, pensive, and a lot of other adjectives all rolled into one. She is a joy to read. I would say the only criticism I can make is that we are all too often lost in Nevare's thoughts and have to be brought back out of it for events to go on. Even with that, her ability to bring things back to motion is startling. The variety of ways she eases back from musings to conversation or activity is masterful, at the least. This is a criticism, but it isn't much of one. We are in Nevare's head for this book, it's that simple. We are with him, and it is very easy to just stay in his head, to follow the train of his thoughts and forget there is a world outside of him. Hobb makes it all too easy to become Nevare. In a good way.
This isn't my first time reading Forest Mage, but it is my first time really giving it enough thought to review it. I don't know that I can be disappointed with Hobb's works. It just doesn't seem like a possibility for me. The balance of introspection and activity makes this book a true first-person wonder. The richness of the world around Nevare rivals our own world. Gernia is a real place. It's that simple. It's just a different reality from ours. Forest Mage truly feels like Hobb has traveled to that place, plucked a book from their world, and brought it back for us to enjoy. This is simply a masterpiece of storytelling, and one I am pleased to have uncovered.
Fantasy lovers, Hobb is well worth your time. I promise it.
Would I Recommend This Book? Most definitely. Hobb's genius plot, lifelike characters, and real conflict are magnified by her amazing writing style, making this a book to read and enjoy over and over. It's a fitting and intriguing continuation of the enthralling foundation set by the first book. I give Forest Mage a walking 5 of 5 stars.
The magic finally did it. Nevare has been fighting the magic too long and too hard, and now it's cut all his ties from his life and driven him away from the world he's known. Now, subject to the other half of his soul, Soldier's Boy, Nevare can only ride along as his other half works with the Speck people to drive away the Gernians from their lands. Living as a Speck, nevare watching Soldier's Boy use his body to try and destroy Nevare's own people.
But which people are really his? Soldier's Boy is half of him. Is Nevare really a Speck or a Gernian? Is the Speck attack going to work? Will he finally do what the magic wants and drive the Gernians away? What about his cousin and best friend who are in the settlement the Specks plan to attack? Will there be anything left of Gettys?
Will there be anything left of Nevare?
Loyal, privileged, and brave, Nevare Burvelle proudly embraced his preordained role as soldier in the service of the King of Gernia—unaware of the strange turns his life would ultimately take. Exposed to a plague of enemy sorcery that felled many of his compatriots, he prevailed, but at a terrible cost to his soul, body, and heart. Now he stands wrongly accused of unspeakable crimes—including murder, the most heinous of them all.
Condemned by his brother soldiers and sentenced to death, Nevare has no option but to escape. Suddenly he is an outcast and a fugitive—a hostage to the Speck magic that shackles him to a savage alter ego who would destroy everything Nevare holds dear. With nowhere to turn—except, perhaps, to the Speck woman Lisana, the enemy whom he loves—he is mired in soul-rending despair. But from out of the darkness comes a bright spark of hope.
Perhaps, somehow, the hated magic that has long abused Nevare can be used by him instead. Could he not learn to wield this mighty weapon for his own purposes rather than be enslaved by it? But down what perilous road will this desperate new quest lead him? And what will be the outcome and the ultimate new incarnation of Nevare Burvelle?
Again, Hobb masterfully recaps the last book, fitting it seamlessly into the continuing narrative of Nevare's story. Renegade's Magic begins right after the last events of Forest Mage. So much happens in the first few days after the book starts that it's easy to lose track of how much time has passed. That's perfect for the reader, since Nevare loses track, too. She does an amazing job getting us into Nevare's point of view, so that we're only building that connection as the trilogy goes on. She really transports the reader into Nevare's world and head.
Hobb's writing is clean. It's that simple. She is a masterful plotter, and she clearly had a well-defined plan for how this trilogy would play out. She ties up plot points, brings in details from the very beginning of the first book to wrap up the ending, and everything has a place in the final moments of the third book. It is well worth applause, in my opinion. There is nothing wasted in this trilogy, making for a very satisfying conclusion that is a joy to read.
Hobb is a master. This is a perfectly self-contained work that hints at a world full of stories. Honestly, I would love more, not necessarily from Nevare. She wrapped up his arc well. But this world is so rich that I want more of it. Hobb's craftsmanship and writing style make this an amazing journey with an ending that does not disappoint while still leaving the future open to interpretation. What needs to end ends, questions are answered, more questions raised, but I think the new questions are best left to the reader's imagination. Hobb has made an excellent end to a masterpiece of a trilogy, one that I feel does not have a weak book at all in it like some trilogies do. She truly is one of the best.
Would I Recommend This Book? A thousand yeses. There isn't a bad or disappointing moment in this book, from a reader's standpoint. I'm not talking plot, because this book is full of disappointments for Nevare. Hobb has so wonderfully brought the reader into Nevare's head throughout that I felt like it was my story. I was a part of it. Nevare's thoughts were my own, even though I am not much like him at all. And this ending... it couldn't have gone any other way. I give Renegade's Magic a fiery 5 of 5 stars.
As for the trilogy as a whole, nothing less than a full Gernian 5 of 5 stars will do. This is a winning trilogy by a fantastic author. If you like fantasy and have not read Hobb, do it.
For more information on the author, visit http://www.robinhobb.com/