Renegade's Magic by Robin Hobb
An SFFWorld Favorite for 2007, Renegade's Magic concludes the story of Nevare Burvelle who is fated to become a Soldier Son in his king's army. Life takes some unexpected turns, however, as Nevare is called to a different destiny. Drawn by magic to the frontier, where his king is waging war against the Specks, Nevare finally succumbs to the forces taken control of him and, instead of fighting his king's enemies, he joins them. Thus begins Renegade's Magic.
Renegade's Magic is a continuation in excellence--excellent storytelling, excellent prose, excellent characters. Hobb has created a world that transcends the classic good vs. evil model, where everyone has the potential for either. If there is any weakness at all in this trilogy it's that, in the end, no one is really "evil". Characters may do despicable things, but, once we understand their viewpoint, I found myself often sympathizing with them regardless of what they'd done or why they'd done it. It makes it hard to want any one individual to come out, in the end, as the victor. The truth of the matter, though, is that there are multiple victors. But victory comes at a price. No one is left unscathed, least of all Nevare, who sacrifices much, oftentimes without even fully comprehending what is happening to him or why (not until the very end, anyway).
Magic plays a dominant role in the Soldier Son Trilogy. So much so that magic itself becomes an entity unto itself. The manner in which magic is mastered is both unique and intriguing, though I have to admit I was a little put off by it at first. I hate to throw out a spoiler (so I won't), but suffice to say magic actually transforms the wielder physically. The end result is a hero who, well, doesn't appear very heroic. I don't think there's any doubt Hobb was making a statement here about our own society, and how we often judge people by their outward appearance. This failing of our own society also exists in Nevare's world, except that only Nevare's own people loathe the change that has overcome him. Their enemies, the Specks, actually hold him in great reverence. It makes for an interesting dichotomy in terms of the storytelling and character development.
Past experience with Robin Hobb's work really had me expecting a bittersweet ending (think Fitz in the The Farseer Trilogy). Instead, I was pleasantly surprised. I won't go so far as to say the ending is all roses (even roses have thorns), but there is a certain gratification I felt as I finished the final sentence. Nevare's world may have been turned upside-down, but, with will and tenacity and a heavy dose of plain stubbornness, he comes out alright in the end.
Renegade's Magic is a worthy conclusion to an excellent story.
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