31. Forest Mage (Soldier Son Trilogy) by Robin Hobb. 736 p. Published September 2006.
Nevare is just recovering from the disaster that took place in Shaman’s Crossing. While he is the only one to fully recover from the plague the Speck spread throughout the city, Nevare is sent home from the military academy where he has been training for a family wedding. As he travels home, Nevare finds himself growing larger and larger, despite limiting his eating. By the time he arrives home, Nevare is so large that his family finds him to be an embarrassment, and his father ends up locking him in his room.
But the Speck Plague seems to have struck his father’s house, and Nevare is left abandoned. After days trapped without food or water, he finally manages to leave his room only to find many in his household have died from the plague. Nevare goes about rebuilding the house and getting the surrounding village back in working order. His father, driven made with loss, emerges from his sick bed and accuses Nevare of trying to kill him and usurp his place as lord. Nevare is disowned and stripped of the Burvelle name.
Nevare travels to the mountains, figuring that he can still perform his god-given task of becoming a soldier, even if it’s only as an unnamed enlisted man. On the road, Nevare finds shelter in the house of a widow and her young children. While there he begins to touch the magic that’s been building inside him. But soon he must leave, and he travels to the front. He finally reaches the barracks, but finds that the only job they are willing to give him is as caretaker of the graveyard.
Nevare accepts this duty and begins to appreciate his solitude. But the forest around him pulses with life and magic, and Nevare soon becomes involved with a Speck woman. She recognizes his magic potential and tries to have him embrace it. But Nevare hesitates to betray his people and the conflict with his proposed destiny is ruining his life. Soon enough, Nevare finds himself in trouble with both sides and faces losing his freedom either way.
Hobb uses Forest Mage to explore the internal conflicts that plague Nevare. With a captivating mix of circumstance and character development, Hobb develops a story that expounds upon the cathartic elements of the first book. Nevare’s suffering is so profoundly human that you can’t help but sympathize. With a stunning and twisted conclusion, Forest Mage takes the reader on an unforgettable journey.
Rating: 4 out of 5