Friday, 8 January 2016

Book Review - Shaman's Crossing by Robin Hobb

I've just finished book one of the Soldier Son trilogy - coming a bit late to the party, I know - and I thought I'd share a few thoughts as I've read several negative reviews from people who have read other Hobb books before. I never have, so I came to this book without any expectations. And I really liked it! Here are some thoughts:

  • Admittedly I found this book a little slow in parts, but there were enough exciting scenes scattered throughout to well and truly hold my interest. I was reading it on the bus on the way home at one point, and when my stop came I didn't want to stop reading even long enough for the walk home, so I sat in a tree and finished the chapter. At the climax of the book I couldn't stop reading, it was so gripping.  
  • Many reviewers have pointed out that the setting of this book feels like 19th century America. As an Australian some of the scenery - the dusty arid plains and the small-leaved plants - feel quite familiar to me as well. It's definitely a refreshing setting when most magical fantasies are set in a medieval European type of world.
  • However, the class struggles felt very English to me. The systemetised school bullying reminded me of JK Rowling's  Harry Potter series, Roald Dahl's Boy, and even William Golding's Lord of the Flies. The class system Hobb set up for her world was fascinating and realistic - that the injustice of it infuriated me at times is a mark in favour of her fantastic writing.
  • The point of view character, Nevare, was well characterised and easy to root for. He has a drastically different worldview from me (apart from the monotheism, I suppose!), and many of his views are quite offensive - although entirely proper from the perspective of his society. He also makes some infuriatingly bad decisions. But for all that, you can see he has a great heart, and even in his bad decisions, he is mostly trying to follow his honour and do what is right. He allows himself to be wrong and doesn't hold any false illusions about himself, whether good or bad. He was very realistically drawn for someone in his world, with his background, and of his age.
  • Lovely long denouement which felt like a sigh of relief after the tension of the climax. I really enjoyed that all the loose ends were tied up and we got plenty of time to savour the victory of justice.
  • Some interesting themes around interaction between original inhabitants and invading forces - again, a struggle ingrained in the history of both the US and Australia. We see it mostly from the invaders perspective but we also catch glimpses of the other side, and hints that Nevare's opinion on things might slowly change. It was nicely ambiguous, as well - up until nearly the end, I didn't know whether Nevare's native friend, who part of his soul lives with in a spirit world, was meant to be someone I was rooting for or not. 
  • I felt a bit bashed over the head with some of the environmental and also feminist messages, but I think they're important so I can see why Hobb wanted to put them in there.
  • All in all, a fantastic book! Looking forward to the next one. 4/5 stars. :D

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