87 of 99 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Shaman's Crossing (The Soldier Son Trilogy) (Hardcover)
Robin Hobb is well known, in fantasy circles at least, as being a writer of fiction with a more serious bent. In her Farseer Trilogy, her theme was that of a coming of age; in her Liveship Trilogy, she addressed the issue of how people deal, or fail to deal with life's lessons. Her aim is both higher, and broader here, as she tackles boundaries and differences, between cultures, within cultures, between classes, and within classes.
Like in the Farseer trilogy, she writes in the first person; her protagonist, Nevare, is the second son of a newly appointed noble who was a colonial style trooper. Nevare can be likened to her Farseer hero's shadow, being restrained where Fitz was passionate; willingly constrained by authority and tradition where Fitz was not. There are essentially three peoples in his world - the Gernian, who can almost be likened to the British colonials, the plainspeople who are an allegory for the Native Americans, and the Speck, a people more alien and wild. The way Hobb sets up the interaction between these three cultures is thought provoking in a way that typical fantasy writing is not; the theme of cross cultural segregation shapes the people in this world and significantly directs their fate. Within this context, Nevare himself wrestles with a class divide that echoes the cultural segregration.
One of the most pleasing aspects about this book is how well it can be read as a stand alone novel, despite it being the first in a trilogy. The ending is satisfying, although it is a happy fact that there are another two books to come. Her hero is a sympathetic one, and her usual deft touch ensures that the reader feels some sympathy for the her antagonists as well. Above all, what I liked most about this novel was how little it resembled any of Hobb's previous novels; in this genre it is all too easy to churn out pulp fiction.
Hobb does an excellent job of evoking Nevare's world; her writing is sound, if not overly lyrical. The book does flag slightly in the first few chapters in that Nevare initially seems more a cipher than a real person, but once her groundwork is set firmly in place, the story rapidly gains a page-turning tangibility, and Nevare becomes a very likeable hero indeed.
The plot is not at all easy to predict: Hobb leads the reader to predict the outcome of many events in the novel, and then neatly turns events on their head with a light-fingered touch, with not a hint of contrivance.
Thoroughly recommended. More please!