This may be Robin Hobb's most undervalued work.
The King's Cavalla Academy has been ravaged by the Speck plague.
The disease has decimated the ranks of both cadets and instructors, and even the survivors remain sickly. Many have been forced to relinquish their military ambitions and return to their families to face lives of dependency and disappointment.
As the Academy infirmary empties, Cadet Nevare Burvelle also prepares to journey home, to attend his brother Rosse's wedding. Far from being a broken man, Nevare is hale and hearty after his convalescence. He has defeated his nemesis, Tree Woman and freed himself of the Speck magic that infected him and attempted to turn him against his own people. A bright future awaits him as a commissioned officer betrothed to a beautiful young noblewoman.
Yet his nights are still haunted by dreams of the voluptuous Tree Woman, dreams in which his Speck self betrays everything he holds dear in his waking life. Has the plague infected him in ways far more mysterious than the merely physical?
Despite his fears, Nevare will journey back to Widevale in high spirits, in full expectation of a jubilant homecoming and a tender reunion with his beautiful fiancée, Carsina. But his life is about to take a shocking turn, as the magic in his blood roars to life and forces him to recognize that his most dangerous enemy, an enemy that seeks to destroy all he loves, might dwell within him.
Forest Mage is the second book in Robin Hobb's Soldier Son Trilogy, picking up from and continuing on from events begun in Shaman's Crossing.
It has taken me quite some time to get around to reading The Soldier Son Trilogy. Despite being captivated and enthralled by the three trilogies that made up Hobb's Realm of the Elderlings series the less than glowing reviews that the Soldier Son books had received on Amazon caused me to hesitate and ultimately look elsewhere when looking for my next read.
But I had enough faith in the author to know that even if I didn't get quite as much out of this trilogy as I had from her previous work I was still guaranteed a well thought-out story replete with memorable characters. And it seemed that the bulk of the reviews I had read took issue with a pervading gloom that surrounded the story. I don't have a problem with this perceived darkness, I had recently made my way through six Thomas Covenant novels and if I could handle that then I was confident these books would not pull me down!
And I will be honest. Yes, the two books so far have been rather grim, the second book particularly so. Nevare is having a very, very tough time, some of it his own fault, most of it not, and it can make for tough reading. But I can state categorically that this is still amongst the best fantasy I have read. The story is intriguing, the characters excellent and the hardships (if I had to use only one word to try and sum up the book, hardship would be it) that Nevare faces left me rooting for him, hoping a better and happier life would be born from his sufferings.
At times I became very angry with the book, not with how the author has written it but at the characters themselves and how they were treating poor Nevare. And this is exactly what a book should do and Forest Mage does it amazingly well. Nevare's father, plus his former fiancée Carsina, really made my blood boil and I realised that only excellent writing can provoke such a response in me as a reader.
So I find myself unhesitatingly recommending the first two books in the Soldier Son Trilogy. There is a lot of suffering and unhappiness, and many of the characters are simply surviving, which I found an interesting and powerful contrast to the ambitions and hopes that were so important to Nevare in the first book.
I am beginning to think that this may be Robin Hobb's most undervalued work. Maybe it is simply too depressing a read for some? But I think all should give it a go, and like me, make up their own mind.
A quick note: The Soldier Son Trilogy is also available in audio-book format, read brilliantly by Jonathan Barlow. Not all high fantasy lends itself well to the spoken word but this certainly does.
Review by Floresiensis
1 positive reader review(s) for Forest Mage
City of Dragons, the third instalment in The Rain Wild Chronicles, will be published in the UK on the 23rd of April 2012. In advance of the book's release, Robin Hobb has kindly taken time to expound on the inspirations b [...]
Dean from Scotland
Brilliant trilogy, Don't understand how anyone could not like it, Admittedly it is hard going in some areas... but is this not true to life? It is not always easy. Many of the issues in the book are very true to life in our modern world.(I fully agree Dean, found the book much better than I had been led to believe it was - Lee @ Fantasy Book Review)
Scott from Canada
I'm a fan of Robin Hobb's other work in general, and I was eager to purchase this trilogy and dig in. The first book in the series (Shaman's Crossing) was good enough, however I must reluctantly state that after her initial vision played out in the first book, much of the 2nd book and 3rd book are frankly just painful to read. My impression is that perhaps Robin allowed herself to identify too much with the intentionally flawed principle character, and like Nevere unfortunately just didn't know how to proceed. This leaves us with a great deal of filler composed of a seemingly endless series of aborted plot progression, with refrains of arbitrary bad things happening due to general stupidity on the part of almost all characters. Perhaps it's an attempt at drama, but also seems like a type of self imposed punishment. There is an element of this in Ms. Hobb’s other work too - the hapless hero, misunderstandings leading to misfortune – but the dose was more moderate and didn’t prevent plot progression (I’m feeling alliterative). There does not seem to be a lesson learned here, Nevere just never gets his act together. Perhaps "inaction leads to tragedy" is the message, which might be an ok meme to espouse, but spending 400 pages to feebly hammer that home is quite unnecessary. Had I not been on a flight when reading much of it I may well have just put the book aside. Rather than a noble suffering soul one begins to simply envision Nevere as self-rationalizing and self destructive. Now, I don't mind exploring dark characters, but that's not even the case here. Hapless without humor. Destructive without drama. A bonanza of boring. Anyway, this series seems best skipped frankly. Sorry Robin - still like your other work.
8.3/10 from 3 reviews