** spoiler alert ** I love Robin Hobb. I really do. I’ve reread the Farseer trilogy a couple of times over the years. I loved Tawny Man. (Not so much the Madship series, but there you are.) But this Soldier Son trilogy… It’s unique; there’s a lot in it that I’ve never seen before. The character of Nevare is also unique: starting out as a fairly typical soldier’s son, he leads us through the training (that I enjoyed), then through being taken over by the magic… Neither of these is part of the uniqueness, but the way they are handled is.
What I didn’t enjoy is Nevare’s utter wishy-washiness. I understand the reasoning behind it, given the … unique situation with his character revealed to the reader a ways in. But the understanding came quite a while into the trilogy, and by then it was rather too late. “I’m going to be a true soldier’s son, the best.” “Well, no, I’m going to do what the magic prompts me to, because those I love could be hurt.” “No! I will follow my dream and go be an officer.” “The dreams are telling me to do what the magic tells me to, and I’d better. And I’m too fat.” “I’ll lose weight!” “No, I won’t…” And so on. I wanted to knock his heads together.
Reason number two that I doubt I’ll read this trilogy again is that it’s very nearly humorless. I’m not much for the guffaw-a-minute spoof books, but halfway through the first book of this one I realized that the outlook was very straight-faced, almost throughout. So, in fact, is Nevare. I mean, of course his life is tough, but if I’ve learned anything in the past couple of years, even in the midst of chaos there is the occasional laugh.
Reason number three is almost cosmetic, I suppose, but it’s still strong: the jacket art for Renegade’s Magic (the American version, above). Don’t get me wrong – it’s beautiful. But it is one of the most spoilerific jackets I’ve ever seen. Only a couple of chapters in, Nevare has a realization of what could end the whole war between the Gernians and the Specks, and immediately stifles the thought for fear Soldier’s Boy will “hear” it… and suddenly it’s very very clear where the climax will go. Without that really very nice painting, there would at least be some doubt. With it, the rest of the book was eminently predictable.
It’s quality writing, as always from Robin Hobb, consistent and solid (though the grammar goes surprisingly wonky at times). I just did not enjoy it remotely as much as some of her other work. I won’t trade it in – but I sincerely regret buying it in hardcover, and I doubt I’ll read it again.