"Forest Mage" is the second book of Robin Hobb's "Soldier Son
Trilogy." The first book is "Shaman's Crossing." Having read and
enjoyed Hobb's Assassin, Ship and Fool trilogies, I naturally picked
this one up as soon as it came out. It's a new world. The main
character, Nevare, is a member of an extremely structured society
loosely based off of a feudal system, a caste system, a European
country, or some such. Sons all follow their father's trade, except
for the nobles who have an heir son, a soldier son, a priest son, an
artist son, etc., as Hobb states far too many times in the first book.
Nevare is, as you can tell from the name of the trilogy, a soldier
son. His country has in the last generation conquered the plains and
the plains-people, and is now attempting to conquer the forest beyond
the plains (thus, the forest in "Forest Mage").
During the first book, Nevare spent most of his time at an Academy for
soldier sons. Hobb took the opportunity to discuss themes of women's
roles in society, duty, obedience, honor and the relation between the
three, and what happens when a nomadic people get pinned in one spot.
"Forest Mage" discusses totally different themes. The story goes off
in a direction I had not anticipated at all. In a way this is good,
since Hobb managed to beat the themes in the first book near to death.
In the second book she discusses themes of how different societies
regard obesity, sex, and death. And yes, those last two mix.
Needless to say, a whole bunch of people end up dead.
Nevare is a sympathetic character. He is kind and wants to do the
right thing. He is an extremely honest person and has a lot of
integrity. Unfortunately this gets him into a lot of trouble when
circumstantial evidence makes him look bad, and he 1) doesn't realize
that he looks bad/guilty, and 2) thinks everyone will believe him when
he tells them the truth. Considering that he's getting mixed up with
the magic of the plains-people and the forest people and his own
people don't believe in magic, this is not a very effective strategy.
There was one thing that nagged me through the whole book. The magic
of the forest people decided to pick on Nevare in order to accomplish
its own goals, and I cannot figure out why. Though I have confidence
that Hobb will reveal the answer to this in the third book, the third
book doesn't come out until August. I've waited patiently for seven
or eight months now. I'm starting to wait impatiently for it.