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Shaman's Crossing: Book One of The Soldier Son Trilogy    by Robin Hobb order for
Shaman's Crossing
by Robin Hobb
Order:  USA  Can
Eos, 2005 (2005)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Robin Hobb, author of the Tawny Man and Farseer trilogies, is one of today's top fantasy writers, and her talents shine in Shaman's Crossing. Gernia's King Troven has dealt with the loss (through defeat in battle) of the western part of his kingdom by expanding into the eastern plains. His disciplined army has conquered the savage Plainsmen's magic with iron and moved into the foothills of the Barrier Mountains, where the dappled-skinned Specks (Dappled Ones to the Plainspeople) release a mysterious, debilitating plague on them.

In Gernia's noble families, birth position determines one's role in life - the first son inherits, the second is the soldier son, the third goes to the priesthood, and so on. Nevarre Burvelle's father was a soldier son, ennobled by the king for his prowess in battle. This new nobility is resented by the old, largely because of their support of the king. Nevarre is the soldier son in his family and raised appropriately. At one point, his father gives him to his old Kidona plainsman enemy Dewara for harsh training. Dewara tries to use Nevarre to dare the spirit bridges of the 'shaman's crossing' and kill the Dappled Ones' tree woman guardian for him. But Dewara's plan backfires and the boy, unbeknownst to himself, becomes an agent of his people's enemy.

We see Nevarre sent to attend the King's Cavalry Academy in Old Thares. There, he and other sons of new nobles encounter great prejudice, extreme hazing and bullying from the soldier sons of old nobles. Nevarre befriends Spink, whose family has had little money since his father's death in battle with the Specks, and Gord, whose clever brain compensates for his excess girth. Nevarre also gets to know his wayward cousin Epiny, who sees two auras when she looks at him, and shows great courage in fighting for him. He has strange dreams. Facing betrayal by all he once revered, Nevarre must face the tree woman's test, one that destroys the world he'd lived in to that point.

Shaman's Crossing is a brilliant beginning to an exciting series, set in an imaginatively-realized new fantasy world. It has subtle magic, both real world and spiritual battles, credible politics and unusual races and cultures. A new Robin Hobb must not be missed by any fantasy reader.

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