“Forest Mage” by Robin Hobb

Ahh… man. This book.

Well. I loved the first book in the series, Shaman’s Crossing, which made me hopeful for what may come next. But after reading this one, I got the impression that all I thought would happen will not, and that the story is probably heading in a different direction. I was so put off by parts of this book that I’ve procrastinated on writing this reflection and thus have put off writing several book reviews. I’m backed up on them.

I’ve put off this piece for so long that I’ve already started buddy-reading the third and final book in the trilogy with my buddy-reader in all things Hobb — Emily at Embuhleeliest. We are several chapters in, and I’ve sort of come to terms with the fact that this story is heading in a totally different direction, so now I’m just going along with it to see how it ends.

Genre

Fantasy

Series

Soldier Son, book 2

Pubbed

2006

Quick summary (spoilers)

This one picks up shortly after the events in the first book. Nevare and his surviving schoolmates, instructors, and other folks in the city of Old Thares are recovering from the Speck Plague that swept through the city. In addition to his physical convalescence, Nev is also trying to come to terms with the fact that he was instrumental in starting the plague and that there’s a part of him that belongs, or at least is loyal, to the Specks. That part of him feels remorse for killing Tree Woman.

Compared to everyone else (except Rory, who the plague seemed to have skipped (if I recall correctly) and Gord, who wasn’t around when the plague swept through), Nev is recovering quickly. His fellow floormates, however, were seriously affected by the plague and probably will not become a member of the cavalla as they initially dreamed. Spink was sent home with his new wife, Epiny, but some of the other boys died. A few remain at the academy, which now has a new leader that is more sympathetic toward the sons of the new nobles.

Anyway, Nev seems to be recovering a bit too well and continues to gain weight, which makes him unfit to continue at the academy and causes him to endure some serious fat-shaming from his family and torture from father when he visits home. In addition to that, sometimes the Speck part of him reaches out to cause something that never seems to go well for Nev later on.

Well, Nev is still confused by the magic he supposedly possesses, but he knows that his weight gain is tied to it. He tries to explain this to his father, but his father is obstinate and simply believes Nev is making up excuses. The only person who lends a sympathetic ear is Nev’s old instructor, Sergeant Duril, who helps Nev to confront Dewara of the Kidona people one last time. After that, things go horribly for Nev. The plague sweeps through Widevale, killing off 98% of Nev’s family, leaving his horrible father and younger sister.

Blaming everything on Nev, his father runs him off, so Nev travels to Gettys to seek a new life trailing a bunch of negative consequences (it seems to me) from the magic behind him. There, Nev meets Specks and even couples with one, reunites with Epiny and Spink (although he took his sweet time about it) and even a woman he apparently fell in love with while travelling to Gettys, and manages to carve out a life for himself. But, because the magic demands all of him, he’s still outcasted, accused of something he did not do, arrested, and jailed. He ends this book using the magic to tell everyone to forget him. (Goodreads)

My thoughts (more spoilers)

I had high hopes when I started reading this because of how the last book ended and how hooked I was on that one. I thought it would be the same with this. But although my interest held throughout my read of this book, I just couldn’t stomach all that Nev goes through because it all seems kind of pointless. Everything is blamed on the magic. What is the magic? I have no idea. I don’t know, Nev doesn’t know, and no one seems able to tell him or explain it. It makes this book a VERY frustrating read because it’s like no explanations are provided. What is the magic? No idea. What is Nev supposed to do to help the Specks? No idea. Nev doesn’t have a clue and, now that I’m reading the third book, neither does Soldier Boy. I am so frustrated. SOOO frustrated and annoyed.

In addition to that, the story seems to have gone off track, on a different route from where it seemed to be heading in the first book. I thought this would be a boarding school book. It’s not. I thought the struggle between old and new nobles would be central to the plot, but it doesn’t seem so. I don’t mind the different direction too much because the Specks are interesting and I’m kinda digging the themes explored in this book (and especially so far in the third) regarding colonization and empires expanding and stealing land from peoples they do not respect enough to form diplomatic ties with, but I keep wondering how the story will tie back to the events and characters in the first book because it doesn’t seem to be heading there.

And I just didn’t like that Nev had to go through all that shit for no reason (because the magic being the force behind all that happens to him is not a good enough reason since I don’t know what the magic is). It just all seemed like an overindulgence in making Nev suffer. From the constant fat-shaming to how his father treats him to Nev being shunned just about everywhere he goes to him being blamed for shit he didn’t do. It became tiring to read about. Actually, Nev is tiring to read about. He doesn’t seem to direct his life. He just seems to allow himself to be pushed (or pulled) along — by the magic.

In some ways, Nev reminded Emily and me of Fitz from Hobb’s Farseer books because of how melancholic and down on himself he gets at times, which I understand considering all the shit he’s having to deal with. Now that I’m writing this reflection, he also reminds me of Thymara from the Rain Wild Chronicles because of how hung up he gets on roles and expectations his society has forced on him. He’s so obsessed with being a good soldier sometimes that it frustrates me although I understand that it will take some time for him to break away from his society and view things differently. Well, I guess I notice this last bit more now that I’m reading the third book.

Anyway, what got me excited in this book was reading about Spink and my girl Epiny. I love Epiny. She’s awesome and I wish the story was about her instead. She would have made the story shorter. Actually, in the third book (or was it this one?) Tree Woman even commented that the magic should have chosen Epiny instead. I wondered if that was Hobb the author making a comment on something she wished she’d done differently in this story. I also liked learning about the Speck culture and how they regard the conflict with the Gernians. Now that we seem to have both sides of the conflict, I do not see how it can be resolved without major losses on both sides.

Overall: ★★★★☆ ½

No, I didn’t like it much and was majorly frustrated with it the more I read after the halfway point or so, but it is a well written story and it will keep your interest and it’s Hobb, one of my favorite authors.

Buy | Borrow | Bypass

10 thoughts on ““Forest Mage” by Robin Hobb

  1. Strong, well written review about one of the most memorable trilogies I have ever read… I recall weeping several times when reading this series:). And I completely understand your bewilderment as to the direction of the second book – I was shocked, too, Zezee.

    Like

  2. Ah, that trilogy 😉 The ending is ok, if it helps – but I was very frustrated by this all, too, and felt it much too long, Nev much too stupid, and generally everything directionless for the majority of the plot. Hope you’ll enjoy book 3!

    Like

    1. That’s good to know because I have to keep telling myself to not think too hard about the end. I keep wondering how it will wrap up and keep thinking some things probably won’t be ended well.
      Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

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