Shaman’s Crossing (book, Robin Hobb, 2005)
This review was originally published in SFX 128. It’s harsher a piece than I’d write now. I didn’t find the book gripping personally, but it’s better than I make out, I think. Still, I was in my “angry” period. Apparently, Hobb had no intention of creating an American Indian allegory, as she says in my interview with her, conducted a few years later, here.
Book one of the Soldier Son Trilogy
Fast-food fantasy of the best quality
Robin Hobb (also known as Megan Lindholm) is not a bad writer. She creates good characters, interesting worlds and scenarios which, while not exactly gripping or original, are readable. Sorry then, that she suffers from a very pedestrian form of A-Z storytelling here. This book, for example, is about a boy named Nevare. It starts when he is eight, takes in his teens, then gives us half a book’s worth of military academy shenanigans that are a sort of hard-nosed Harry Potter, as if Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket suffered from social class obsession and ran Hogwarts. His destiny is revealed to us here and I imagine, as the story goes in books two and three, we will follow his career as loyal and dashing “cavalla” officer, where he will, at some point, be forced to make a choice between his environmentally unsound countrymen or his destiny, bestowed upon him by a Native American type in a dream quest.
For that is the theme of the book, American land-guilt. The plight of the “Plains People” closely follows that of the Indians. This is an industrial age fantasy, one of smoking chimneys, guns, and the felling of forests to fuel progress. Of course, this is quite an original subject for the genre, but though fantasy always borrows from history, if I’d wanted to feel bad about the American genocide, I’d read a book about it. Instead the real horror of what happened on the plains is watered down, and their prairie home jammed unconvincingly up against a Eurodisney fasntasyland emerging into the modern era. Allegory needs to be complex, this isn’t.
But, this is what the market demands – easily identifiable themes presented in exhaustive detail (a poor substitute for depth) and Hobb does an artisan’s job of it. It’s a good enough read that you want to finish its 533 pages, it just will not make you sit up and think. If you fancy the literary equivalent of a burger, chow down.
Did you know?
Hobb’s real name actually isn’t Robin Hobb or Megan Lindholm, but Margaret Alice Lindholm Ogden.