Forest Mage: Book Two of the Soldier Son Trilogy
Eos, 2006 (2006)
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Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
as the second in the
trilogy, the latest offering from brilliant and prolific fantasy author Robin Hobb. The series is set in Gernia, where birth position determines role in life - in noble families, the first son inherits, the second is the
, while the third enters the priesthood. As a second son, Nevare Burvelle was groomed by his father (recently raised to the nobility) to enter the army, then heading east to conquer the dappled-skinned Specks after taking over the plains territory. In
, we saw Nevare kill the Specks'
guardian. But at the same time, unbeknownst to him, Nevare became an agent to unleash a deadly plague on his own people, while he attended the King's Cavalry Academy in Old Thares. He himself caught the illness but survived, as did his best friend Spink, though the latter was so debilitated that he had to leave the Academy with his new wife, Nevare's cousin Epiny.
opens, Nevare dreams of the Tree Woman, who warns him that he belongs to the magic, and that it will have its way with him. Soon afterwards, Nevare heads home for his older brother's wedding, anticipating his reunion with his own fiancée. On the way, he visits the Dancing Spindle, a monument of the Plainspeople, and through him their source of magic is destroyed. As he heads home, we learn that - as an aftereffect of the plague - Nevare has steadily gained weight, to a level that his father finds contemptible. So does his bride-to-be, who quickly dumps him. Nevare's nightmare continues - as does his increase in mass and humiliation - when he receives a notice of his discharge from the Academy. Then the plague hits his home and its environs - reminding him that the magic will have its way.
ejected by his family, Nevare travels east, stopping to help a young widow, Amzil, and her small children. He journeys on and, despite his girth, is accepted at the fortress of Gettys as a common soldier and given responsibility for the cemetery. But extreme prejudice against his bulk - and the will of the magic - follows him, continually complicating his life. Then Spink and Epiny show up, Spink as an officer. Nevare takes a Speck woman as a lover, and discovers more ways in which the magic works through him. Once again, the plague strikes and, to save those he loves, Nevare finally gives in to the magic that owns him. Though anything Robin Hobb writes is engrossing, I found this episode rather depressing and - as is often the case in the middle book of a trilogy - a drawn-out version of what could have been a much shorter story. However, that will not stop me from devouring book three when it's released.
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