Shaman’s Crossing by Robin Hobb
Review by Joshua S Hill
It happens far too often that books that are not worthy of wide recognition achieve it, and those that are worthy of it only achieve success in smaller amounts. It is a never ending source of frustration for fans of those books and authors, for they see actual talent being ignored in place of flashy and insubstantial books that do nothing but cater to the lowest common denominator.
It is not a hard leap to guess where I believe Robin Hobb lies in this.
And with her latest series, the Soldier Son trilogy, we once again encounter this appreciation for mediocrity and shunning a work that is intelligent and thoughtful. As I looked through reviews prior to ordering this book of Amazon late last year, I was surprised to find multiple low reviews speaking of repetitiveness, boredom, etc. Yet when I read the book, I found nothing of the sort.
My conclusion was that those who read and disliked Shaman’s Crossing would probably have disliked Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings as well.
I say that, because in both books, information is provided. Lots of it. I don’t have a problem with this. I don’t mind a bit of repetition to ensure that the reader has the information properly categorized. And considering that this book is set in an entirely new world from her previous Realm of the Elderling’s, it seems only right that a certain measure of care is taken in educating the reader.
And this is where we hit the problem that many people encounter. They don’t want to be educated. A book – to them – is supposed to be dumb entertainment that doesn’t make them think of stretch their minds. They naturally assume that any review of a book like this that is favorable is paid for by the publishing company (I actually saw this, as a note).
Setting aside all of the negative minutia surrounding Soldier’s Son, I loved this book. We are introduced to the life of Nevare Burvelle, the second son of a new noble. The people of Gernia see their lives dictated by their religion. It is a male focused land, with rules for what each son must do. Common people will see their children follow in their footsteps. However for the noble’s, a strict regiment is outlined: first son inherits the title, the second becomes an officer in the army, the third enters the priesthood, while the fourth becomes an artist.
The first half of the book focuses on the preparation of Nevare for his life as a Soldier. He is the son of a soldier (the means to which his father acquired his newfound nobility) and is preparing to go to the King’s Cavalla Academy.
Following Nevare through the struggles he finds himself in is enthralling. You empathize with the son who quickly finds himself bereft of familial attention and even quicker bereft of family altogether. Swept into an education environment that actually has a ring of reality to it (guess who I don’t like), Nevare quickly finds himself with more to deal with than just a mounting pile of study and intractable school friends.
Hobb once again manages to weave a story that is both intriguing and captivating. If you are looking for an easy read with no imagination or thinking involved, then go pick up Harry Potter or Eragon (aha!). However if you would rather read an author who actually treats you as if you have a brain of your own, then Shaman’s Crossing is definitely for you.
Xavier from Austria
This is a Robin Hobb book. And that means it is well written, well-researched and well-thought out. The story itself will appeal to adults both young and not quite so young, and the use a young lead character going away to schooling, meeting new friends, making new enemies and the joys and hardships they endure have long been appealing to fantasy readers (A Wizard of Earthsea and Harry Potter being examples, although in Shaman's Crossing the school is of the military type). It is a very good book but I do also understand the criticism it receives, there is little cheer and Navare seems to jump from frying pan to fire with regularity. And I found the dream sequences a little hard to follow. Thankfully the ending provided a little uplift in mood and so I will not hesitate to read the second book, Forest Mage, although I am told poor Navare will not find life easy... Recommended, but keep in mind that its bleakness can be a little overwhelming at times. Oh, and there is a strong environmental message running through that will appeal to many readers.
Ty from London
I liked this book, however at times when Hobb expands on certain subjects like the old wars fought etc. it tends to drag a little too long and there are 2 sides to this. One good and the other not so good. Firstly it gives validity to the world, a history which adds to the realism. On the downside it takes the reader away from what is going on with the character at that time. This makes whatever is going on seem like forever till something happens. But maybe that's just me. I don't know if I would read the second one.
Bill from Canada
I really enjoyed this book, I'm doing it for a school project. But what would be the theme to the book?
I loved this trilogy. I thought that he was mistreated and that i wish he would have done other stuff, and it was confusing sometimes about who I wanted to win and what should happen. But I don't think I would read twice either. Still, I love the ending of the last book, although didn't look to good at first.
Tom from Columbus, Ohio
I really enjoyed Hobb's other trilogies but this was not her finest moment. This is the best book of the series and I rate this a two if that tells you anything.
Jonatan from Sweden
I agree with Firus, the book isn't actually bad, it's just so... frustrating. Everything goes wrong for Nevare, everyone blames him, everyone hates him, he's confused, indecisive (for a reason, which you know if you read the book). It's just so much misery and unfairness, a bit too much for my taste. Wasn't that bad, still finished the trilogy, but it's not something I would read twice.
Firus from Malaysia
I personally think that it's not the overload of information, or any such aspect as the backdrop, worldbuilding, magic system or characterisation that cause the problem for so many readers. Hobb is an awesome writer, and I love every single word in every single sentence of her other series. But with Soldier Son I just couldn't bring myself to enjoy it. The story is just too overwhelmingly depressing, and Nevare's internal confusion and indecisiveness just too much to take. It gets even worse in book two. I couldn't read more than three pages without screaming for him to do something already! Still, I finally managed to finish both books one and two, even though it took me ages. However, until today, maybe after 2 years or so, I still can't bring myself to go on and read book 3. The thought of drowning again in all that depression is just too much..
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