Cécile C.'s Reviews > Shaman's Crossing

Shaman's Crossing by Robin Hobb
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Aug 27, 2009

liked it
bookshelves: fantasy
Recommended for: courageous readers, and readers who do not mind a lot of very bleak or violent scenes
Read in May, 2009

I review the whole trilogy here, since the three books are meant to be understood as one story.

A general impression: disappointing, since this trilogy has an enormous potential but in the end is flawed by some major plot weaknesses.

The novels are set in an original and very carefully constructed world, which could be described as being a mediaeval society, with a 18th-19th century level of technology. But this is obviously not Final Fantasy, and all the potentialities of such a world are exploited. Hobb took great care in imagining a consistent political and social plot, and the characters' way of thinking is thoroughly and consistently shaped by the context, something that I wish I saw in more mainstream fantasy novels. More interestingly, all three civilisations involved in the plot are constructed with the same attention to detail, and as a result, they sound unique while drawing enough inpiration from real-world civilisations to sound profoundly realistic. Although the pace is quite slow (a bit too much, at times), the reader has time to enjoy bith the plot and the setting. By the end of the first novel, I had big expectations of what was to follow.

Unfortunately, some problems start to get in the way starting from book 2. First of all, the story suffers from its own qualities. It was a great effort to choose as your main character a boy who was born a soldier in a society that values the established order above anything else, and it was probably a great challenge to examine the mind of the most narrow-minded hero you could dream of and how he reacts when he is forced to see that reality is just more complex than he thought. The problem is, Nevare, the protagonist, spends an agonising amount of time refusing to change and wishing things were back to normal. This is all very well, but since it involves his refusing to do anything that would help the progression of the plot, the story is considerably slowed. Cut out Nevare's hesitations and you spare about four hundred pages. Seriously.

This is in part what spoiled book 3 for me. Without getting into too many details, I would say that my overall impression was that the plot started moving back and forth at some point without getting anywhere. Fortunately, the description of a civilisation that had only been glimpsed until then was interesting enough for me to want to go on. However, it is the end that I found really disappointing. Again, I don't want to reveal too many details. I will only say that I feel one subplot, involving an ancient religion, was added merely in order to afford what would otherwise have appeared as an incredible deus ex machina. What is worse, the true climax seems to appear two hundred pages before the real end, and what follows is just a way to move the story comfortably back to where it began. This was absolutely disappointing, especially since some main characters are just ditched in the process and no satisfying resolution is offered. It all sounded as if the author suddenly got bored with her own story and wanted a way to end it all without having to think to much about it.

To sum it up, I don't know if I would read it again. I rated it a 3 for the writing, the universe and the occasionally breathtaking atmosphere. But the end brought absolutely no satisfying meaning to the whole, and merely sounded as if the author assumed we implicitely had more sympathy for one civilisation than for the other and wanted to offer a nice happy ending accordingly. I have nothing against happy endings, but only if they really are the point where the plot naturally led to. If you are not afraid to start a 2000 pages trilogy and perhaps be severely disappointed in the end, the writing may be worth it. But you've been warned!
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