The Soldier Son Trilogy by Robin Hobb

A military cadet with a gleaming future is captured by magic and turned into a traitor against his own people.

I’ve already read the three books that comprise Soldier Son, but when I saw a Kindle deal for the trilogy all in one I decided it was time for a reread. Shaman’s Crossing comes first, then Forest Mage, and Renegade’s Magic completes the series. I love Robin Hobb but I remember feeling like this series wasn’t one of her best.

My reread elevated my esteem for the story of Nevare Burvelle, a soldier’s son destined by the good god to become an officer, thanks to his father’s newly minted status as a nobleman. The first book details Nevare’s training in what seems to be typical coming-of-age fashion. He gets a classical military upbringing from a sergeant his father trusts. His father then turns him over to a Plainsman, one of the enemies of his people (the Gernians). He has a transcendent experience and vision of a Tree Woman guarding a series of bridges. He heads off to military school–only to find that his vision was true reality. When the magic takes him over, Nevare is utterly transformed physically but retains his inner core of a trained soldier, only to realize that magic intends to use him to help the wild, presumably feral Specks destroy the Gernians.

Nevare is put in an impossible dilemma, unable to fight against the magic and get his old life back, and equally unable to understand exactly what the magic wants him to do. If he could figure out the latter, he might be able to use his military education to outwit the magic, but he finds himself acting as a traitor again and again and again. It was suspenseful and delightful to see how the story twisted and turned from one extremity to the next.

What I missed the first time I read the books, spread out over years as they were published, was the love story at their heart. Tree Woman is more than just a specter–she’s a living person who has a hold on Nevare that is romantic, erotic, and passionate. And it’s not what Nevare wants at all, or so he thinks. Their connection binds the story together in a powerful way, and I was profoundly moved by what Hobb created for them.

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