Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Book Review: Forest Mage by Robin Hobb

Forest Mage is the second novel in Robin Hobb's Soldier Son Trilogy. Other books in the series include Shaman's Crossing and Renegade's Magic.

The original cover for this book (no longer displayed) was important, I thought, because, more than any other cover I've seen for this series, it symbolized what the Soldier Son Trilogy is all about. You have a man--a cavalry soldier--sword drawn, facing the mists of the forest and the ominous mountains beyond. There is fire, carnage, and an overwhelming feeling that something is out there. Is it coming? Is it waiting for our cavalryman's charge? We don't know, but clearly the man senses the danger he's in else his sword would not be drawn.

The soldier, of course, represents Nevare. I say "represents" because Nevare never becomes that man--that soldier--shown on the cover. Something happens to him, something that was begun in Shaman's Crossing that spills over here. He never becomes the Soldier Son he was supposed to be. Instead, he changes in ways I won't report here least it take something away from your own reading. Suffice to say bad things happen. He's in a sorry state. Yet he battles on, searching for a solution to a dilemma begun in book one which has taken everything from him but his life. Even that, however, might be forfeit if he doesn't come to terms with who and what he has become.

Again, Hobb draws us in with her masterful storytelling. I honestly felt for Nevare's misfortune and kept turning the pages because I wanted to see him succeed. Sad to say, he doesn't. Not in the way we hope, anyway. Forest Mage, like any middle volume, is a bridge between book's one and two, though it does wrap up a good part of Nevare's misfortune (and one of his lives--read the book to understand that!) and sets him on the road to finality as told in Renegade's Magic.

Book Review: Shaman's Crossing by Robin Hobb

Shaman's Crossing is the first novel in Robin Hobb's Soldier Son Trilogy. Other books in the series include Forest Mage and Renegade's Magic.

Shaman's Crossing is where we are introduced to our hero, Nevare Burvelle, second son of a second son, fated because of his birth order to become a soldier in his king's cavalla (cavalry). Much of this novel deals with Nevare's childhood: how his father initiates him into his birth-fate, begins to meld him into the man he must one day become, and, finally, sends him off to the King's Academy where he will learn the business of soldiering. Along the way, Nevare becomes entangled in a web that neither he nor the reader will fully understand until events unfold in Renegade's Magic.

Nevare's early years on his family's estate draw you in from the start, introducing us to his father's war history with the Plainspeople and Nevare's own bond with one Plainsman in particular. There was almost a low point where Nevare is at the academy, what with the mundane day-to-day life of a student and all, but Hobb keeps the reader interested with a myriad of sub-plots and a cast of real, believable characters who each have difficulties or challenges of their own.

I found Shaman's Crossing to be a fully engaging read. Many others did not agree with me, but that’s ok. Hobb never disappoints with her writing, and while this story was a little off from her usual Fitz novels, I still found a lot to like in the beginnings of what becomes a much larger story for Nevare. Needless to say, it didn't take me long to pick up the next book in the series.

Murder in the Boughs by Jamie Sedgwick

I received Murder in the Boughs by Jamie Sedgwick from the author via a GoodReads giveaway. Murder in the Boughs is a standalone novel and, unfortunately from what I could tell, the only "Hank Mossberg, Private Ogre" novel Mr. Sedgwick has written. Mr. Sedgwick has a number of other novels to choose from, however, many of which have caught my eye and found their way onto my Amazon Wish List.

Murder in the Boughs is a detective novel of the hard-boiled variety. Hank Mossberg is Sedgwick's Mike Hammer or Phillip Marlowe (my personal favorite), except for the fact that he's an ogre who walks a line between the "real" world and the hidden one, where fae exist. The fae of Sedgwick's world are more human-like than you might expect, though. They are thugs, hitmen, crime bosses, nurses, policemen, drug pushers (and abusers), and, of course, detectives.

Hank Mossberg is unique in more ways than one. Not only is he the last of his kind, but he's also the Steward, a position appointed to him by the fae Elders. In the fae world, his job is to investigate crimes and enforce fae law. In the human world, he's more detective and less lawkeeper. Though magic is prevalent in the fae world, Mossberg is immune to all of it. Bullets, however, present their usual problem for him, especially when uzi wielding elves come looking for him.

Murder in the Boughs presents two crimes for Hank to solve: one involving the elicit fae drug known as "pixie dust" and the other the kidnapping of a human child. While the cases are separate from one another, we find Hank juggling each throughout the novel. Ultimately, they never really cross one another, something I found a little disappointing. I thought there could have been some connection between the crimes, and thus possibly a more climatic ending.

Sedgwick, however, does a nice job with the conclusion of the pixie dust case; the reveal of the responsible perpetrator was unexpected. With the case of the missing child, I was left a bit unfulfilled, only because the wrap-up comes suddenly and almost wholly dealt with towards the lattermost part of the novel.

Murder in the Boughs is an enjoyable, fun read. I'd like to see more of Hank Mossberg. I think the character has more cases to solve and enough character depth to become the next Hammer or Marlowe if the author chooses to spend more time with him.

Classic Reread: Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles

I think everyone who loves books has an inaugural series in their background that opened their eyes to a wider world of reading possibilities. For me, that series was Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain. If you want to read a quick history of Lloyd Alexander, check out this post. It's nicely done.

I've had this series on my re-read list for a long time now. At one point, I owned all five books in the series; somewhere between the age of 10 (when the editions I own were published and presumably about when I first read them) and 40 (my current age), 2 of those books were lost. I still have books 3, 4, 5, and remedied the missing novels with a couple of quick purchases from Amazon's used book section.

I don't know if I'll post formal reviews of each book; I've slowed my reviewing so I can focus on other things. But I might post some thoughts once I'm done with the series. The difficult thing about re-reading such a formative work is that my expectations are high. As a 10 year old, I'm sure I tore through them. I was always interested in fantasy; a series of this magnitude in an easily digestible form probably kept me up until the early hours of the morning. But will the Prydain Chronicles hold up to the critical eye of the 40 year old curmudgeon I've become? I'll let you know.

The Chronicles of Prydain

Honour of the Grave by Robin Laws

Honour of the Grave by Robin Laws is another book that didn't do it for me. Unlike the last couple of books that I gave up on fairly early on, though, this one had me until one of the characters did something that I felt was completely out of character. Unfortunately, this event was jarring enough that I had to put this one down.

This novel is part of the Warhammer series of novels. I haven't read enough of them to know what order this might fit into or if there is any order to them at all, but the novel seems to stand alone. This is actually the second Warhammer novel I've reviewed.

So where did Honour of the Grave go wrong? It's when Angelika, who is a grave robber by trade, betrays her very nature by saving a young noble whom she knows will be killed once she hands him over to his rival brothers. Rather than taking the bounty, leaving the lad to his fate, and riding off to her next adventure, she snatches the young lord from the clutches of death and so makes herself some very powerful enemies, not to mention causing herself to stand out in a way you wouldn't think a grave robber would relish.

I wasn't alone in this opinion of Angelika as evidenced by the reviews on Amazon.

Unfortunately, what started as a fun fantasy romp fell flat when stood up against Angelika's bizarrely shifting personality.