Nevare spent the majority of Forest Mage living on the edges of Gernian society, a man made outcast by his extreme obesity, an easy target for the raging impulses of the mob. That same rabble drove Nevare from the edges of Gernian society into the wilderness beyond, where he has no choice but to seek sanctuary with the Specks. This is the last thing he wants to do, as it was Speck magic that lay at the core of his misery. But Nevare is given little choice in the matter. Soldier's Boy, the portion of his soul originally stolen by the Tree Woman, reemerges and takes over Nevare's body. The remainder of the book follows Nevare as he rides in his own body, a sort of detached and desperate observer, as Soldier's Boy leads the Specks in war against the Gernians.
The odd melding of first person and third person omniscient that comes out of Nevare's situation makes for interesting reading in its own right. Fortunately, Hobb does not rely on a gimmick alone to carry the day. Nevare, in the previous books, had felt unsatisfying as a character, as if he were somehow incomplete. In this book, Nevare becomes truly three dimensional, while simultaneously being thoroughly split. It is Jeckyll and Hyde blended with Sybll in an utterly original fashion.
And what Hobb does to him through the course of the book is even more interesting, but that would spoil the surprises.
One thing I can say without unwelcome spoilers is that Hobb has achieved one virtually impossible task. She has created two completely believable, yet radically different, societies. It's a more difficult thing than one would expect. When an author creates multiple societies, they are either so similar as to be effectively indistinguishable or they are utterly different but one ends up being almost stereotypically exotic, to the point where it feels more than a little unreal. Hobb manages to create two societies that are at complete variance while simultaneously being complete and real and coherent in all of their details.
Finally, there is the manner in which Hobb deals with the moral dilemmas woven into the story. It would have been all too easy for her to default to an "evil colonialists / noble savages" systems with pat answers to every question, but Hobb never seems to take the easy route. There are no easy answers, no white hats or black hats. Hobb's world is refreshingly full of shades of gray.
All in all, it is a wonderfully well-written work with three-dimensional and challenging characters that does not shy away from difficult questions. Overall, a very satisfying read.
Books Read: 5 / 50
Pages Read: 2,720 / 15,000