It’s definitely better than the second book, Forest Mage. And possibly even better than the first, Shaman’s Crossing. But the ending is quite weak, and is virtually identical to the ending of Fool’s Fate (and, for that matter, to Assassin’s Quest) – character survives all ordeals, but is left scarred (emotionally and physically), extremely reduced in social standing and power (and these characters were all powerful at key points of the stories), but is happy because he got the girl. Sets off to start a new life (with girl) under a new name in a new place. Honest toil, simple life, ‘salt-of-the-earth’ yadda yadda yadda. The embodiment of ‘poor but honest’, despite having been anything but. And then there’s a little deus ex machina twist that means they won’t quite be living in utter penury after all.
It’s a real shame, because the ending undoes much of the interest in the story before that. It’s an absolute Robin Hobb cliché, and has the nasty sude-effect of making me re-evaluate her previous books.
As a series, the Soldier Son trilogy has certainly got plenty of interest. Shaman’s Crossing packed a lot of action and thought into its pages, and seemed to promise something quite new. But Forest Mage was pretty much unrelieved misery, and personally offended me (cashing in on the current “obesity is the new paedophilia!” hysterics). I understand why the references were there, but as an ex-bulimic it struck me as being gratuitous and overdone. And it just got worse and worse. I understand why it’s necessary to tear the protagonist down, but the reader shouldn’t also be required to suffer!
As you can gather, I was in no hurry to buy the final installment.
But it is much better – the plot moves along quickly, and Nevare/Soldier’s Boy isn’t quite so annoying. And gets to have some time as a successful agent. But the ending is just not good enough – obvious, unconvincing, and too late in the story. (Hard to explain without giving it away.)
There are other Robin Hobb ticks that annoy me – someone is almost always raped, or about to be raped. Sex is usually furtive and/or nasty and/or manipulative. The protagonist will get a fever of some sort. (Virtually every damn book!) And scars. Lots of scars. And there will be a side-flourish of drug (ab)use, usually involving a peripheral character.
Not a series I’m going to bother to keep, although I will read the next one with less trepidation.