I reviewed the first volume of this trilogy here, and the second here. So, quick recap: everyone loves Robin Hobb’s first three (linked trilogies), but many reviewers and readers have panned her latest series, complaining that it’s boring and her current hero, Nevare Burvelle, doesn’t do much and isn’t interesting or likable. However, I liked the first two books in this series a lot and was looking forward to the third.
I wasn’t disappointed. I re-read the first two volumes before reading this one, since a fair bit of time had passed while I was waiting for Renegade’s Magic to come out in paperback. So I had the experience of reading all three through in a single sweep, which is, apparently, the way Hobb wrote them.
I find these three books compelling and intricately detailed, and I like and sympathize with the hero very much. Nevare is, quite literally, a man divided — a study in internal conflict. As a result of a traumatic experience when he was fifteen, Nevare’s soul or personality or self — whatever you want to call it — was literally torn in two, with two different parts of him growing up in two different worlds and learning the values of two completely different cultures. The trilogy is the story of how Nevare deals with that sundering and attempts to find a place in one world or the other. On a larger scale, it’s the story of the clash between a fast-expanding, technological, militaristic culture, and a race of indigenous forest-dwellers who at first appear to be simple “noble savages” but who are in fact far more complex than that.
The two cultures, Speck and Gernian, who both lay claim to Nevare’s soul, are drawn in intricate detail — Hobb is a master world-builder. Gernian society, into which Nevare was born, has a rigid social structure in which every child knows exactly what his role in the family and society is to be from the moment he is born. Ripped away from the fabric of the life he expected, Nevare struggles in a completely believable way. Once he has been infused with Speck magic, he no longer has a place in Gernian society, yet, as this book reveals, he cannot be fully himself as a Speck mage either.
These novels cover a lot of territory you don’t usually see in fantasy novels — like what it’s like to be morbidly obese, and what it might be like for the same person to move to a society where being fat is valued and admired. Or how about being the non-dominant personality hidden in the brain of someone with multiple-personality disorder? — which is probably the most psychologically correct way to describe what’s happening to Nevare for much of this novel.
By creating a character who is so divided between two worlds that there seems no way to unite them, Robin Hobb sets herself a daunting task for this final novel of the trilogy. This isn’t an easy series to find a resolution to, but Hobb manages to do it, tying up a number of loose ends, bringing in actions and events that seemed insignificant in the first novel but prove tremendously important by the end, and even managing a happy ending for poor old Nevare (who certainly deserves it by this time).
There were a few things about the ending that weren’t as resolved as I’d have liked, though I can’t discuss them here without spoiling it for people who may want to read it. And if you’re fantasy fan, or a Robin Hobb fan specifically, and haven’t yet read this trilogy, I strongly recommend it. With the caveat that not everyone likes it, and if you read fantasy mainly for a fast-paced, action-filled plot, this series may move too slowly for you. But if you enjoy fantasy that focuses on detailed, thorough world-building and indepth character development, then you should definitely give the Soldier Son trilogy a try. I thoroughly enjoyed it.