Thursday, 11 June 2009
May’s Book summary
• The Brandons by Angela Thirkell
• Renegade’s Magic by Robin Hobb
• Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym - re-read
• The Cat Who Saw Red by Lilian Jackson Braun
• Stardust by Neil Gaiman - re-read
• Testament by Alis Hawkins
• The Cat Who Turned On and Off by Lilian Jackson Braun
• A Mixture of Frailties by Robertson Davies - re-read
• Forests of the Heart by Charles De Lint
• No Go the Bogeyman by Marina Warner
May saw fewer completed books than usual – an extra trip south and work deadlines left little spare time, but I took the plunge and ordered the weighty Renegade’s Magic from the library, in the hope of finishing Robin Hobb’s most recent trilogy.
It was a mistake. I’d been in two minds after the first in the series, Shaman’s Crossing, not at all sure whether I’d enjoyed it, though fairly certain that I found many of the characters unappealing, including the protagonist, Nevare Burvelle, the Soldier Son that the trilogy is named after. I don’t quite know why I am so unsympathetic to this person – after all, his struggle to find and maintain his identity is a common theme in literature these days – but Nevare, throughout three long books, is whiny and self-righteous and thoroughly unattractive, an impression exacerbated by the first-person narrative. It’s true that in Hobb’s previous books I have had a similar complaint - for instance, Fitz, the main character in both the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies, also suffers, in my opinion, from an excess of self-pity, so that I regularly wanted to box his ears - but the other characters in those books are well-drawn and the setting is excellent; I also liked the way in which the Liveship trilogy dovetailed with, and complemented, the other two. With Soldier Son she moved away from the familiar Six Duchies/Rainwild world to Gernia, a country where war, frankly, seems to be waged mainly to provide employment for second sons, who traditionally go into the military at an early age. Gernia, which has suffered encroachment in the past, is now eager to consolidate trade by building a road through the forest inhabited by the Specks, a people the Gernians regard as inferior with their primitive lifestyle and magic use. Since the forest is home to the Specks’ ancestor trees, resistance is inevitable, but faced with iron weapons which destroy not only flesh but magic, the Specks seem helpless. As with the search for identity, this postcolonial theme is a familiar one and is, perhaps, handled rather better. Hobb certainly creates tension over where the reader’s sympathies lie and articulates some of the complexities we face today over self-determination for people whose nationhood has been eroded.
Nevertheless, it was an almighty battle to finish the book. I wanted to see what the outcome for the Specks would be (I’d stopped caring much about Nevare) so I skimmed the second half. I don’t think I am alone in finding this series hard to read – I’m sure there are more positive reviews out there, but I don’t remember reading them. I’ve read that lately Hobb has returned to the Rainwild setting of the Liveship books, a much more hopeful move. Fingers crossed!