The first part of the Soldier’s Son Trilogy by Robin Hobb. I found myself eyeing Robin Hobb for some time before seeing this book in a second hand bookshop alongside the other books in the trilogy. Shaman’s Crossing was a bit of a let down compared to the other fantasy novels I have read. It doesn’t really make any new choices, and is generally quite a dull book
Let’s start by examining its point of view. The story is told exclusively through Nevare Burvelle, the second son of a second son. As a result he must join the military. However as a character the bulk of the book centres around his time at the academy, where he is trained to be a soldier. The problem is that the academy is very boring, and essentially makes the book into a giant school based story arc. Even in the climax nothing really happens to him. Because the reader is limited to Nevare’s point of view, once Nevare reaches the academy, the plot struggles to keep the reader informed of the outside world via Nevare’s relatives.
However, as an avid believer in show don’t tell, I believe the novel would in fact have benefitted from having multiple point of view characters to offset the limited point of view provided from Nevare’s experiences. While I admit that the book tries to offset this via letters, the technique feels cheap. Also, nothing beats seeing events from the point of view of another character. Since Nevare spends a great deal of the climax suffering from a plague and cut off from the outside world I feel like the book was significantly lacking in terms of style.
The conflict as a whole was disappointing. For most of the book nothing happens, then suddenly a speck plague consumes the academy almost out of nowhere. In fact most of the conlfict happens in Nevare’s head, against his speck self and the mysterious tree woman. Outside of causing the plague in the climax, these characters have no noticable effect on the outside world. The subplots were reasonably enjoyable, especially the romance between side characters Epiny and Spink, but at times I feel as though the book focused on them too much and forgot to provide a real world conflict that affects the characters other than Nevare until it was too late.
The book did have its good points though. As mentioned, the subplot between Epiny and Spink was enjoyable. This was in part because I enjoyed Epiny’s character as a whole, as she seemed to have the most personality. In fact it almost made me wish she wasn’t Nevare’s cousin so that she could be paired up with him. On the other hand though, Nevare’s actual love interest Carsina is interesting for her lack of presence. Ordinarily I would complain about how bland a character she is and in many ways this is true. However considering I believe she would be a bland character even if he conversed with her in person, I find it relieving that they kept her in the story. The distance element of their romance is in fact very intriguing and the fact that you never meet her even more so.
Overall the book has a few good points which barely save it from being awful, but unfortunately the book is still far from good. When I read it, it feels like the generic fantasy literature which I have been fortunate to avoid for the most part. I admit that I was expecting better from Robin Hobb. However I have only read the first book so I can only hope that the story as a whole will improve as I read the other instalments.
IN A WORD: BORING