Shaman’s Crossing, by Robin Hobb
Posted January 23, 2011on:
Soldier Son, Book 1: Shaman’s Crossing, by Robin Hobb
Where I got it: purchased new
Why I read it: I enjoyed Hobb’s Farseer series and wanted to read more of her books.
I can give you a simple summary of the plot of Shaman’s Crossing, the first book in Robin Hobb’s Soldier Son trilogy, and I guarantee, it will sound simple. I also guarantee this novel is far from simple.
In the traditional and conservative land of Gernia, the aspirations of noble sons are predetermined by their birth order. First sons are heirs, second sons are soldiers, third sons are priests, and so on. After a recent and bloody war with their neighbors, the King elevated his most celebrated military commanders to the title of Lord, making them equal in status to not only their older brothers, but the old nobility as well.
Nevare Burvelle is the second son of one such elevated veteran. Living on a frontier estate, Nevare is naïve of how the old noble families view “upstarts” such as his father. These frontier estates are often the only thing between the civilized cities of Gernia and the nomadic Plainsmen and the aborigine Speckled peoples of the mountains.
Nevare is a perfect son. He is loyal, honest and obedient. These things make for a good soldier, but his father has greater plans for him. In an effort to make Nevare break out of his quiet shell of obedience and learn to think for himself, his father sends him to learn from a Plainsman named Dewara. Part of Nevare’s “education” with the savage Dewara is a spirit journey, in which things go either very wrong, or very right, depending on how you look at it.
Shortly after his return home, Nevare is sent off to the King’s Military Academy in the capital city. Part of his “education” at the academy is that new noble families, like his, are looked down upon by the old noble families. At the academy, the new noble sons are given the worst quarters, the worst hazing, are given demerits and extra work for nothing. Every that can be done is done to ensure as many new noble sons as possible drop out, or are kicked out.
If Nevare doesn’t become a high ranking officer in the King’s army, he will have let his father and his entire family down. He will lose the woman he is betrothed to. He will be an embarrassment to new noble families everywhere, showing their elevation to noble status was undeserved.
Just past the halfway point of Shaman’s Crossing, I had an unexpected and intense emotional response. I could relate to Nevare, and I really didn’t want to. The book became difficult for me to read.
Anyone whose ever felt like they let someone down will be able to relate to Nevare. Anyone whose ever spent time and money (specifically their parent’s money) on an expensive education and then worked in an unrelated career, will be able to relate to Nevare. Anyone who ever bucked tradition, or skipped on a great opportunity, or was confused, or felt like they let someone down, will be able to relate to Nevare, and may have a tough time reading this book. I felt like a My Chemical Romance song, except a little less screaming.
Like a number of other Robin Hobb books, there is so much more beneath the surface of Shaman’s Crossing. People believe they understand what is happening, but of course, they don’t because they can only see things from their narrow point of view. While Nevare is trying to figure out what he has become, a war of territorial expansion is breweing on the eastern borders. Can the nobles quit their petty squabbling for the good of the country, and do they want to?
Although I was ultimately satisfied with Shaman’s Crossing, it was not a perfect book. The middle dragged and dragged, and many dialog scenes felt like people were talking at each other rather than with each other. This many not be my favorite Hobb novel so far, but I will read the entire series. Nevare and I both need to find out what he has become.