‘Oh, the birth order destiny is fixed, of course. But why cannot a man be more than one thing? Think on it. Your own father has been a soldier, and now he is a lord. Why cannot an heir also be a poet, or a musician? Soldier-sons of nobles keep journals and sketchbooks, do they not? So, are you not also a writer and a naturalist as well as a soldier?’

The first novel in Robin Hobb’s newest trilogy Soldier Son. Reviews of the other two books will follow after I have read them.

General Information

Title: Shaman’s Crossing
Series: The Soldier Son Trilogy, book one
Author: Robin Hobb
Original Publication Date: 2006
ISBN: 978-0-9-719614-2 (UK paperback)
Cover Price: £7.99 (UK paperback)

Past fiction reviews can be found here.

Premise

In a world where magic is very real, the people of Gernia have turned away from it, preferring their iron and steel, gunpowder and muskets and cannons. An expansion westwards has led Gernia into conflict with a primitive people the Gernians call Specks, and also allowed the King to grant many new lordships for valour in combat. Nevare Burvelle is the second son of one such New Noble, destined according to the Writ of the good god to be the soldier son for his family. He goes to the Academy convinced of a golden future as an officer in the King’s cavella, but the magic that the Gernian people have turned their backs on and nearly forgotten remains potent, and has gripped part of him from childhood.

High Point

Nevare’s uncle starting to take action. He comes across as nearly as unstoppable as a large boulder rolling down a mountain.

Low Point

Some of the early chapter drag a bit.

The Scores

Originality: Ultimately the story boils down to a conflict between technology and magic, and a conflict between old and new nobility – both of which might be seen as a conflict between old and new. It’s spun together in an interesting way, and I never felt like I was retreading old ground. Magic against technology has of course been seen in other works. Five out of six.

Imagery: The author effectively conveys what is necessary for the story. The barren plains where Nevare grows up feel harsh, dry and unpleasant, and the different places he sees on the boat to the Academy are all described superbly, from the desolation of the deforested hills to the way the snow in the capital city becomes dirty so quickly after falling. We also have entirely sufficient sketches of the characters we meet – not over long, but not lacking in any essentials. Six out of six.

Story: While this is only the first part of a trilogy, the story does have a partial resolution at the end of the book which gives the reader a definite satisfaction while also leaving many things open to happen in the future. While the opening chapters drag a little, things pick up rapidly as the book proceeds and by the final chapters I couldn’t put it down. Everything fits together nicely as well – except those things which are obviously intended to be resolved in a later book. Five out of six.

Characterisation: Because the book is written entirely in the first person from Nevare’s point of view, the reader is provided with a great deal of information about his character and motivations. In turn, our perceptions of the other characters are filtered through his although sometimes we are given some information which Nevare might misinterpret but which the reader will not. Each character has their own personality, and as the book progresses they clearly show themselves as products of their society – or rebels against it, in some cases. Five out of six.

Editing: While the early chapters might have benefited from a little trimming, it’s difficult to see where things could be hastened without missing out on the establishment of Nevare’s character, which is crucial to understanding the book. I noticed very few mistakes in spelling or grammar throughout, and there’s nothing that really spoils the experience. Five out of six.

Emotional Response: By the end of the book, I was holding my breath wondering what was going to happen to most of the characters in various predicaments. I think it was somewhere around a quarter of the way through that I really started to care – before that the other characters seemed a little distant, probably because time was moving quite quickly and they kept changing and growing up along with the narrator. Five out of six.

Overall: This is an excellent book, although not as immediately gripping as the author’s other works it is ultimately just as satisfying. Five out of six.

Shaman’s Crossing receives a total of thirty-six out of forty-two.