The wood will weave its wicked spell... Feb 12, 2008
Firstly, having been introduced and immersed into the land of Gernia and the life of Nevare Burvelle in `Shaman's Crossing', as a result this book is an immediately more involving story. But secondly, and more importantly, in its own right `Forest Mage' is a far superior novel. To be blunt...`Shaman's Crossing' began badly; while it may have been necessary for the author to set the tone with a lengthy description of the political and cultural climate of Gernia, those introductory pages felt like meagre offerings to this devoted Hobb reader. But I definitely didn't find that to be the case with `Forest Mage', I was completely hooked right from the very beginning and there was never a moment when I wanted to put this book down.
I don't think it's possible to do any kind of justice to this author with short descriptions of her work, no matter how complimentary or descriptive, but one of Hobb's many talents, which is evident here, is that the middle books in her trilogies are very often the best, at least in my opinion. Where a great many authors would struggle to develop the themes of the previous story and to set a tone that ties past events in with current ones, Hobb does all of the above while markedly stepping up a gear in story, style and surprise twists. In the dying pages of this novel and with its semi-excruciating cliff-hanger of an ending I guarantee that you'll be feeling just as you did once you'd completed `Royal Assassin', `The Mad Ship' and `Golden Fool' in previous years by this author, which is (without exaggeration) feeling completely torn between adoring the magnificent story and deflated by the knowledge that you must now wait yet another year to find out all that happens next.
The injustices in the life of Nevare Burvelle very often left me reeling in `Forest Mage', my blood boiling in my veins at both his misfortunate and stupidity, hoping against hope that his loved ones would see his good intentions and recognise his unenviable position, but of course that's a very rare occurrence in `Forest Mage' just as it is in every other of this author's previous novels, because in the world of Robin Hobb the protagonist is very rarely appreciated. I'll admit that occasionally I did feel slightly manipulated as a reader, as I quickly came to recognise the familiar culmination of events in all of Hobb's stories that signal the inevitable lead into the latest catastrophic episode in the life of her protagonist. But in a sense that's the beauty of the Robin Hobb novel- you can see what's happening, you can sometimes see what's coming, but as a reader you're powerless to offer Nevare the helping hand he so often requires and so rightly deserves. The addictive quality of the Hobb novel is partly due to the reader's deepest and most fervent hope that even some small act of kindness will soon be awarded the forever put-upon hero.
One of the added advantages of any novel by Robin Hobb, which the reader can always rely upon is that her stories are always a complete package- from the vivid and evocative cover design by John Howe, to the characters that literally come alive in your imagination and on the page, right down to the turn of phrase so well articulated by Hobb that you can't help but emphasise her words in a whisper under your breath as you read. `The Soldier Son Trilogy' is not on the same heavenly-high level as that of her previous trilogies. That's inescapable. But it's so excruciatingly close that my mouth is already watering in anticipation for the Soldier Son's concluding instalment...
5 Stars and deservedly so!