Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Forest Mage, or the Slacker Protagonist

Yesterday, I closed up what is possibly the most frustrating book I've read in the past few years, Forest Mage by Robin Hobb. Frustrating that the writing itself was good and parts of the story sucked me in, which contrasts with the utter despair at the hopelessness of protagonist Nevare's character. Frustrating because I've come to expect the good writing, and even the passivity of the slacker protagonist, but here it was almost too much to bear. Frustrating because I hold Hobb’s earlier works in such high regard, a measuring stick by which I compare other writers.

I agree with much of what is said in the SFFWorld forum topic about the book: 200 pages of this novel amounted to a constant reminder of how fat Nevare had become. I felt browbeaten into submissive into beliefy. Much of the novel (maybe 50 pages worth even) was Nevare constantly saying "I don't know what to do" or some similar phrase. Basically, far too much of the obvious being hinted at without stating the obvious.

Many readers have complained that Fitz (from the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies) was something of a dullard. I hope for their sake, they never read this book. Nevare's outright stubborn insistence on doing absolutely nothing was also frustrating. Am I the only one who was thinking from about the first third of the novel that he could have gone to Epiny for assistance with his magic? It is almost as if Nevare forgot that she helped in the prevoius novel.

Watching Nevare persist in doing nothing for himself other than accept the meagerness thrown at him rather than be proactive was akin to driving slowly past a horrific car wreck. You don't want to look and see the blood and death, but part of you is fascinated by it, while the other part wants to see the reason for their delay. I don't know if that is a compliment, but that quality about the story did keep me reading, and fervently at that.

I don't even think there was a good case to support either sides of the conflict (Specks vs. Gernians). Both sides are callous in their approach to the other side and nothing compels me to truly give a rat’s ass which side “wins.” I; however, suspect neither will win.

On the converse side, I would attribute much of Nevare's despair and hesitance to act as a result of his un-acceptance of the magic. To me, this novel could have been trimmed considerably; it would have been a stronger novel, without the browbeating. I get the sense that perhaps this "trilogy" with some judicious (and often needed) editing, could have been a more powerful duology.

In the end I was very compelled (almost as addictively as Nevare's eating compulsion) to read through to the end, and to even want to read the final installment. What is also frustrating is that it took Nevare so long to finally take some sort of stand and do something. Unfortunately this happens in the last handful of pages and the novel ends on a cliffhanger.

Will I read the final book? Probably, I am a completist and a big fan of Hobb. I am also curious if this story would have indeed read as well (or better) as a duology.

Sure, I know this book was published over a year ago here in the US and before that in the UK, but I couldn’t not drop a post about the book here.

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