Off the Shelf

“Shaman’s Crossing”

By Marcus Pan

Shaman's CrossingRobin Hobb’s Shaman’s Crossing is indeed a long book. It’s a slow mover but builds to an incredible ending, so it’s worth the walk. Fusing elements of westward-expansion era United States with medieval and renaissance flair, she introduces us to a world where honor, integrity and the strict adherence to moral codes are tantamount to a young man’s rites of passage.

We’re introduced to Nevarre Burvelle, a young soldier’s son destined for the King’s Cavalla knights brigade. Shaman’s Crossing walks us through the first period of his young life, introducing us to the world of Gernian aristocracy where each man’s destiny is almost completely laid out for them – the first son becomes the heir to gain the holdings of his father, the second son becomes the soldier donated to the King’s army, the third to the priesthood and so-on. We enter Gernia at a difficult time, not long after the Landsing wars were bitterly lost resulting in the forfeiting of many portside and populace cities to Gernian’s enemies. Faced with this, the King spreads his arms eastward, in much the same way the United States did during their westward expansion.

Moving out meets the Gernians with the Plainspeople – very similar in scope to the American Indians as the US moved likewise. The bringing of civilization to these people is considered a great honor to their One God, as shades of Christianity-like moral codes are a guiding line to which most Gernian’s attach their belief systems like guidewires. As the Gernian’s reach the outlying lands of the Barrier Mountains, where another group of people, the Specks, live their brutal lifestyle a new war breaks out as expansion is temporarily slowed.

To provide even more subterfuge to the story, it was shortly after the Plains wars that the new King raised a number of warlords to nobility status, creating a faction of New Nobles who’s sons are destined to attend the King’s Cavalla Academy. A rift of New versus Old Noble blood rages in subtle ways, with Old Noble students providing a rough living at the academy for New with expanses of bitterness and jealousy requiring the country as a whole to cross.

Nevarre’s life was diligently planned out for him by his father, a new noble of the Plains wars, who trained him from a young age as a soldier’s son. It’s during one of these training sessions when Nevarre’s welfare is entrusted to an uncivilized Plainsmen, with his father’s idea that knowing one’s enemy is tantamount to winning a battle. It’s this man that leads Nevarre down a magic-laced path that continues to wreak havoc in his mind and dreams for years to come, culminating in an unprecedented attack on Gernian’s capitol of Old Thares itself through the elemental bond stolen from Nevarre during his training with the Plainsman.

Hobb’s writing is high caliber, and extremely descriptive sometimes to a fault. It did take a good half the novel to get “up to speed” so to speak, but once it did – right around the time Nevarre joins the Cavalla Academy – it moved briskly. Long paragraphs of descriptions will sometimes mar the fluid action however, especially in the earlier pages, but if you can get through the slower start you’ll find yourself coming to a brilliant end of Shaman’s Crossing, the first book of the Soldier Son Trilogy. Robin’s mixture of a western-like milieu peppered with renaissance thinking and strict social classings makes for a great land with strong plotlines available to her as she continues the series.

"Shaman’s Crossing" by Robin Hobb
Copyright © 2005 by Megan Lindholm
ISBN: 10:0-06-075762-0

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