For item #2 on my post-Lent fiction fun list, another new novel by another of my favourite fantasy authors. I have loved all nine of Robin Hobb’s “Realm of the Elderlings” trilogy of trilogies — the Assassin series, the Liveship Traders, and the Tawny Man trilogy. The first volume of her new Soldier Son trilogy, Shaman’s Crossing, seems to have generally gotten less effusive reviews than the earlier books, but I enjoyed it. Now I’ve finished the second novel in this trilogy and I’m eagerly awaiting the third.
I’ve read some bad reviews of Forest Mage on Amazon, usually complaining that not much happens in this book. Frankly, much as I love Robin Hobb, there’s a point I reach in every one of her books where I think, “This could have been cut a little” because there always seems to be a stage at which not much is happening and the hero or heroine seems to be stuck in a rut. This is certainly true of Nevare, the hero of Forest Mage, who has just about every bad thing you can imagine happen to him in this book. His body and mind are being taken over by an alien magic; he loses his fiancee, his military career, and his family, not to mention his manly physique. He doesn’t necessarily respond with courage and initiative; at a lot of points in the novel, Nevare folds like a card table.
Some readers find this inappropriate for a fantasy hero. But I like it. Nevare responds to crushing bad fortune the way I probably would. He whines; he complains; he tries to buckle down and deal with it; he runs away. I don’t mean to suggest he’s an antihero on the Thomas Covenant level (ask me sometime who’s my least favourite fantasy character! Go on, ask!! Uncork my vial of vitriol!!!!). Rather, Nevare is a regular guy who has been thrust into a completely irregular situation, and he doesn’t know how to deal with it. He doesn’t figure it out — and embrace his fate — until the end of this novel.
Although the novel is at times slow and repetitive, I never found it boring. I liked Nevare and found all the secondary characters interesting, and I loved the world Hobb is building in this trilogy, so I was quite happy to spend as much time there as it took for Nevare to deal with his strange fate. I can’t wait for Book Three.