January 01, 2006

Shaman's Crossing by Robin Hobb

decaying rope-and-board bridge with a blonde guy at mid-span and a shadowy figure with the head of a bird at the near end.With this volume, Robin Hobb has graduated to that exalted sphere of authors whose names appear on the dust jackets of their books in larger type than the title (at least on my collection of US hard covers... Can't speak for when or whether this happened for other editions of her books.) This makes me happy because at least for now it means that her books are selling and so there are likely to be more of them. It also gives me hope that we may see the books written under her previous nom de plume, Megan Lindholm, reissued, which would be a very fine thing.

Shaman's Crossing is the first book in a new trilogy. It doesn't appear to be set in the same world as Hobb's previous books, but I wouldn't discard the possibility that they might be somehow linked. The setting finds an early industrial society which has almost completely subjugated a nomadic horse-riding, plains-dwelling, earth-worshipping people, and is starting to encroach on a forest-dwelling people of similar culture. The parallels to the North American conflicts between the First Nations peoples and the white man are blatant, but not precise.

The story is told in first person from the point of view of Nevare Burvelle, the son of a Gernian soldier recently promoted into landed nobility by the king following the long, bloody war with the plains people which, in turn followed a longer, bloodier war with the country of Varnia which lost Gernia their entire coastal holdings. Not a happy political climate. The culture dictates that birth order of the sons of the family strictly dictates the life pursuits of each son. The first-born is the heir, second, a soldier, third into the priesthood, fourth, the arts, etc. Nevare is a second son and so trains from his youth to be a soldier.

The first half of the book follows Nevare's early training, first with his father and a series of hired tutors, then, less conventionally, with a plainsman enemy of his father's who subjects Nevare to trials his father didn't bargain on.

The second half of the book follows Nevare to the Cavalla (read Cavalry) academy.

For much of the book I felt like I had a pretty good idea of the shape the story was going to take. This being the first book, it's not clear that I was completely wrong, but I was definitely surprised by the way this volume played out. I can't be more specific without major spoilers. I was a little disappointed by the second half of the book in that large swaths of it are fairly generic boarding school drama, but Nevare's unique personal challenges, the secondary characters, and the details of the world made it just novel enough to keep me going through all the boilerplate. Next volume should be interesting.

Posted by jeffy at January 1, 2006 09:44 PM
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