I’ve done a lot of good reading this summer, but it’s been a long time since I’ve read any good fantasy. I love good fantasy, and there’s a lot of it out there, but not a lot that I really enjoy and can get into. Tastes in fantasy seem to be even more individual and specialized than in other types of fiction, because I’ve often had fellow fantasy readers tell me, “Oh, if you like X, you’re sure to like Y,” recommending a writer and a series of books — only to have it fall completely flat for me. So when I stumble across a fantasy writer I do love, I hope that he or she is prolific.Robin Hobb certainly fits the bill. Her last three trilogies could perhaps be called a “nonology,” since all nine books are set in the same world and share some interlocking themes and characters. I’ve never read the original Assassin trilogy because I couldn’t get it locally (although I have now ordered it from Amazon), but I did read the Liveship and Tawny Man trilogies and thoroughly enjoyed them. Hobb creates believable characters you can really care about in fully realized and interesting fantasy worlds, and then sets in motion plots that leave you turning pages till two a.m.
Her tenth book is a departure, set in what appears to be an entirely different world — in the country of Gernia, where society is rigidly stratified and everyone appears to be pretty much settled in and accepting of their assigned role in life. The main character, Nevare Burvelle, is the second son of a nobleman, and thus destined to be a soldier — a destiny Nevare doesn’t question. Second sons are soldiers; that’s just the way it is.
But Nevare’s path to becoming his family’s soldier son becomes fraught with twists and turns when his father sends him, as a teenager, to an old enemy for training. The repercussions of what happen during those weeks continue to haunt him for years, even when he leaves home at eighteen to go to military academy, where he makes lifelong friends and enemies and becomes caught up in webs of politics and intrigue.
I have read several bad reader review of this book on Amazon, from Hobb fans who were disappoitned and found that this first novel in a new trilogy was slow and didn’t seem to go anywhere. Again, tastes vary, but I have to wonder if they were reading the same book I was reading. While introducing us to a whole world and a host of characters — with minor characters as vivid and memorable as some of the major ones — she moves the reader through Nevare’s early life in a storyline that may seem episodic but in fact continues to build towards the inevitable climax at the context. I found it completely satisfying, maybe the book I’ve enjoyed most all summer.
It also contains one of the most thought-provoking passages I’ve read recently. Nevare is speaking of an experience so disturbing that he deals with it by pushing it aside and deciding it was just a dream.
“I think it is how most men get from one day to the next: they set aside all experiences that do not mesh with their perception of themselves. How different would our perception of reality be if, instead, we discarded the mundane ebvents that cannot coexist with our dreams?”
The next book in this series, Forest Mage, is due to be released in September. I’ll be eagerly awaiting another fine book from Robin Hobb.