Robin Hobb – The Soldier’s Son trilogy

Caveat up front: This is a re-working of the reviews I wrote on Goodreads for these books in the summer of 2009. They were meant to contain as small an amount of spoilers as possible and were pretty short. I thought I’d repost those reviews here in an edited form, because older books need love too and this way I can catch up on the more shiny new books I’ve read so far this year.

After publishing her highly successful trilogies set in the world of the Six Duchies and the Rain Wilds, Robin Hobb moved on to a new world. This time she chose a world which was reminiscent of both the Roman era and the American Old West. In The Soldier Son trilogy we follow the story of Nevare, the son of a self-made soldier-elevated-to-noble. Here’s the blurb for the first book.

Nevare Burvelle anticipates a golden future. He will follow his father into the army; to the frontier and thence to an advantageous marriage.

Over twenty years the army has pushed the frontiers of Gernia as far as the Barrier Mountains, home to the enigmatic Speck people, who retain the last vestiges of magic in a progressive world. Exotic and misunderstood, they are believed to spread a sexual plague which has ravaged the frontier, decimating entire regiments.

Such beliefs will affect Nevare’s military training at the Academy, where he will experience injustice and foul play. But his world view will also be challenged by his unconventional cousin Epiny. And on Dark Evening, when the carnival comes to Old Thares, it will bring with it the first Specks Nevare has ever seen…

Completely different from the world of the Farseers, I initially had a bit of trouble getting drawn in, but by chapter three I was sold. From the moment Nevare follows Dewara, a Kidona plainsman in to the seemingly empty wilderness of the plains, the story starts taking definite shape. After his time with Dewara, Nevare is sent to the capital Old Thares to attend the military academy. The rest of the book is set here and at the academy Nevare forms relationships that will be important in the rest of the trilogy. He also discovers what his time with Dewara truly did to him. This middle part is long and, as it’s a school setting, rife with the usual ‘protagonist-at-school’ plotlines, such as finding his place in the pecking order and the nasty teacher. Still, these serve their purpose and are used well. The climax of the book might not be sudden, but it is definitely quick. The ending resolves some of the plot points but leaves enough for as set up for the next book.

The second novel in the Soldier Son trilogy was a lot darker than the first one. In Forest Mage, Nevare falls from grace and faces an astonishing amount of misfortune. He’s terribly lonely and dejected and though a lot of it isn’t his fault, his almost constant cry of ‘It wasn’t me, this isn’t fair’ got on my nerves after a while.

The highlights of the novel for me were Nevare’s interactions with Amzil and her kids and Spink, Nevare’s best friend, and Epiny. Those two stole every scene they were in. Lastly, the last chapter was brilliant. I loved the way the story was resolved and it was a great hook to pick up the next volume.

Renegade’s Magic is the concluding volume in the Soldier Son trilogy. It finally made Nevare take his fate in his own hands and discover what the magic wanted of him. Spending time with Soldier’s Boy in the world of the Specks was interesting to say the least and discovering Soldier’s Boy’s motives and life.

For me the crux of the book was the continuing reappearance of Orandula, the god of Balances, who kept demanding Nevare’s repayment of his debt in the form of either a life or a death. To me it conveyed the lesson that it’s important to make choices, even though you’re not sure whether it’s the ‘right’ one. To choose, to take control and live with the consequences of your choice, is to move forward. If you avoid making the choice or put it off, letting circumstance and the outside world decide for you, out of fear of choosing the wrong one, is to stagnate and get mired deeper into unwanted situations. Luckily for Nevare, his choice ultimately ends up being the right one and, too much rejoicing on my end, he finally took charge (hurray!) and stopped being a victim (victory laps around the room, well mentally at least ;)).

Ms. Hobb nicely tied up all the story lines and showed why the magic made Nevare and Soldier’s Boy do what they did and the ultimate consequences of those actions. The fact that she included not only the major players in the books, such as Nevare, Spink, Epiny, Amzil and Yarill, in these resolutions, but also included minor characters, such as Nevare’s niece Purissa, Rory Hart and Lt. Tiber, only made it more enjoyable.

Even though it was a lengthy read and at times slow, it didn’t bore me in the least. Ms. Hobb lovingly created this world and her descriptions of it are enchanting, especially the Forest scenes. If you’ve never read anything by Robin Hobb, you’d be wiser to start with the Farseer trilogy, but for any fans of Ms. Hobb’s work, this is definitely a recommended read.