Forest Mage: Slower, not as rich as book one

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Forest Mage Robin Hobb SOldier SonForest Mage by Robin Hobb

Shaman’s Crossing was slow and at times dry, but I thought it rewarded the patient reader and that the pace was mostly appropriate for the content and character. The same complaints about book one could also be leveled at Forest Mage, and here, unfortunately, I can’t quite defend the book as strongly.

Like Shaman’s Crossing, there isn’t a lot of “action” here. One expecting large battles, political upheaval or machinations, encounters with monsters, or showy displays of magic will be best served not bothering, though if anyone is picking up Forest Mage after reading Shaman’s Crossing they’re already aware of all this. Mage picks up with Nevare returning home after having “recovered” from the Speck plague of book one. Unfortunately, he is still seemingly in thrall to the Speck magic and his recovery takes the form of a gross gaining of weight as the magic “swells” him, forcing his exile from first the military academy, then his own family. The first third or so of the book deals with his worsening relations at home (things with his father turn particularly horrific), which only are resolved by a new wave of plague that frees Nevare to move on toward the frontier where he hopes some desparate unit would take him on. He ends up a cemetary soldier in the last town at the far working end of the King’s Road. There, at the boundary area between his own culture and that of the Specks (whose mountain forest the road must carve its path through), he must solve the problem of the Speck magic that grows in him and either choose sides between the two cultures or find some way of bridging the two.fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews

As in Shaman’s Crossing, the analogue between our own historic treatment of the Native Americans is strong. As is the way Robin Hobb refuses to let her main character play the “hero” consistently (or even usually). Life on the frontier is painted in sharp detail, as is the allure of the Speck forest. The possible love interest for Nevare is a strong character who slowly grows on the reader — one of the major plusses of the book is how Hobb allows that relationship the time to develop realistically. Finally, the tension between major plot points and themes picks up greatly towards the end and leaves the reader wanting more.

There are several weaknesses to Forest Mage, however. As mentioned, it reads more slowly and more dryly than book one. Nevare’s struggle against the magic becomes overly repetitive, as does his struggle between the two sides of himself. The same is true with regard to his battle with his father and the various negative interactions he has due to his great girth. The book easily could have lost 200 or so pages and the reader feels each one of those extra pages at various points. It simply doesn’t compel in too many places as Shaman’s Crossing did.

In the end, Forest Mage is not quite as rewarding as book one; one is not quite as sure that the slow pace and dry spells were worth the pay off, though by the end I think the reader will tip over into believing so. It’s a closer call than I would have liked, however. Those who liked the first book a lot, as I did, will find their way to the end with moderate difficulty. Those who struggled to finish book one, however, may just concede this one halfway through. I’d recommend they continue on, skimming if need be, for it does leave us pointing toward a third book that I at least am very interested to read based on what’s gone on so far. Those who barely finished Shaman’s Crossing might be best deciding after the first 75 pages or so of this one if they can take the slow pace and if not read a summary somewhere. Recommended, though with fair warning due to its slow, dry pace.

The Soldier Son — (2005-2007) Publisher: Nevare Burvelle is the second son of a second son, destined from birth to carry a sword. The wealthy young noble will follow his father — newly made a lord by the King of Gernia — into the cavalry, training in the military arts at the elite King’s Cavella Academy in the capital city of Old Thares. Bright and well-educated, an excellent horseman with an advantageous engagement, Nevare’s future appears golden. But as his Academy instruction progresses, Nevare begins to realize that the road before him is far from straight. The old aristocracy looks down on him as the son of a “new noble” and, unprepared for the political and social maneuvering of the deeply competitive school and city, the young man finds himself entangled in a web of injustice, discrimination, and foul play. In addition, he is disquieted by his unconventional girl-cousin Epiny — who challenges his heretofore unwavering world view — and by the bizarre dreams that haunt his nights. For twenty years the King’s cavalry has pushed across the grasslands, subduing and settling its nomads and claiming the territory in Gernia’s name. Now they have driven as far as the Barrier Mountains, home to the Speck people, a quiet, forest-dwelling folk who retain the last vestiges of magic in a world that is rapidly becoming modernized. From childhood Nevare has been taught that the Specks are a primitive people to be pitied for their backward ways — and feared for their indigenous diseases, including the deadly Speck plague, which has ravaged the frontier towns and military outposts. The Dark Evening brings the carnival to Old Thares, and with it an unknown magic, and the first Specks Nevare has ever seen…

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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