Soldier Son Trilogy by Robin Hobb
I finished Renegade's Magic, the final novel of Hobb's Soldier Son trilogy, and I was truly disappointed... not because the ending was less than satisfactory. Quite the contrary, I was disappointed because I knew it was the last book and I would have no more chance to read about these characters and their adventures.
This trilogy follows in first person perspective the character of Nevare Burvelle, a second son to a noble family who, because of his birth order, is destined to become a soldier for the crown. At first glance, and in truth, for the entire first book, this series appears to be a better-than-average coming of age story about a young man who goes off to the officers' academy to fulfill his destiny, armed with a mysterious magic that shapes his future and bodes of a life that will amount to more than those futures of his school comrades. In truth, much more is going on in this book, events that will have bearing on the entire rest of the trilogy in a cascade of "chaos theory"-style repercussions. The first book Shaman's Crossing is an entertaining tale, but it is in the second novel, Forest Mage, that the story takes a very interesting turn.
The Soldier Son trilogy is unlikely to end up as required reading in high school English classes, but within the established fantasy genre structure this story challenges readers with plot and character twists. It tears down the very structure of expectations that it builds over the course of the first book, and dares readers to see its fantasy hero in a way, to which they are completely unaccustomed. As our hero's life and plans are derailed in unexpected ways, the reader is drawn into sympathizing with the character while at the same time decrying, "The story can't possibly continue like this!" More than once, the changes to Nevare's life and to the course of the storyline seem nearly intolerable, both for Nevare and for the reader, but just like the protagonist, readers also adjust to the new norms created by Hobb as the story unfolds. What is more remarkable though, is that in a story where magic has a mind of its own and goes even so far as to backseat the narrator in his own body, Hobb still puts the story in her protagonist's hands. Nevare drives this story at every turn, even when he is fighting the inevitable pull of the magic that has beset him.
The Soldier Son trilogy is a great pick for fantasy readers looking for a story that pushes beyond the norm while also remaining grounded in fantasy familiarities.