The near-sighted Farseers

Book review: The Farseer Tilogy by Robin Hobb


Warning: the covers contain spoilers.

Only four books into the body of work penned by Hobb (Ogden) and she’s already becoming one of my favorite fantasy novelists. She fearlessly ‘steals’ from the rich fantasy cannon, drawing out familiar magics, creatures and settings. The Farseer Trilogy tracks the adventures, and misery, of FitzChivalry, a young royal bastard with a host of personality quirks and magical talents. All three novels are written from his first-person perspective, creating an intimate feel and an attachment to the protagonist.

Yup, there's a wolf and its a major badass.

Yup, there’s a wolf and its a major badass.

It’s impossible not to compare The Farseer Trilogy to George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. The Six Duchies and Westeros are both conglomerations of diverse regions, magic plays an important but mysterious role, and terrible terrible things happen to our favorite characters. They each pay special attention to intrigue, with secret plots, assassinations, and royal families turning on themselves. Violent and sexual scenes, while less frequent in Hobbs work, are vividly gut-wrenching in both series.

What distinguishes Hobb is the way she treats her characters. Instead of Martin’s reckless abandon and near senseless killing, she invests heavily in the relationships and development of her creations. The roles of friends, lovers, father figures, and mentors are thoroughly explored in the backdrop of fear, uncertainty, and love. These relationships are constantly put to the test as characters go through puberty, new magic is discovered, and a zombie-like apocalypse promises a literal soul-crushing doom for all.

One my favorite aspects of Hobb’s writing is her construction of strong, female characters. The best part is that she doesn’t make a big show of it. It’s simply the norm for women to engage in, and succeed at, all the same occupations – including royal governance – as men. She does this without abandoning femininity or making grotesque caricatures of women living out a male fantasy of violent / sexual conquest. It’s just refreshing. This gender equality vanishes in the setting of the next series of books, The Liveship Traders, but the female characters remain three-dimensional and important.

I don’t feel qualified to say too much about the technical aspects of the writing other than that I enjoy it, and that there is a healthy scattering of foreshadowing, themes, and cleverness. I will also say that The Fool is one of the best fantasy characters ever devised. The Fool is to Hobb as Snape is to Rowling.

A nagging problem I have with the trilogy is that even though Hobb attempts to create a wide and wondrous world she rarely explores it. The Six Duchies may as well be called The Two Important Cities, Plus Vague Mentions of the Surrounding Countryside. As I read on to The Liveship Traders, this problem seems to be remedied by a change of scenery and the switch to a multiple-perspective narrative. However, as stand alone books, many settings become all too familiar and do little to spark the reader’s imagination.

While I’m critiquing, let me explain the title of the post. Fitz, the protagonist, can be a complete and utter moron. At least it seems that way to the reader. Perhaps Hobb simply wants to portray a teenager’s level of perception, but it can be quite frustrating when he misses the significance of something so obviously important. On the other hand, maybe the reader casually takes for granted the knowledge of all things fantasy: knowledge that is withheld from the ignorant Fitz. At any rate, Fitz’s ignorance plays a key role as he advances the plot with his poor decision making. The reader must simply suffer through it.

In all, I wholly recommend The Farseer Trilogy to any lover of fiction. In these novels Hobb has created a mature, thoroughly entertaining, and surprisingly insightful reading experience that stays with you like any good work of art.

wide dragon image credit :