Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb

(Note: this review is for the Farseer trilogy as a whole.)

Robin Hobb’s first foray into the young adult fantasy genre is undoubtedly a breath of fresh air compared to the pulp sword and sorcery existing on the market.  A human story throughout, in the books Assassin's Apprentice, Royal Assassin, and Assassin's Quest, Hobb focuses on character interaction, coming of age, as well as the bucolic life of animals and plants rather than huge battles, systems of magic, and quests for power.  Action scenes do occur in the Farseer trilogy, but the reader must be patient;  The personal struggles of the royal bastard Fitz Farseer to discover his place in the royal family and society instead take center stage.  Likewise, the supernatural is found, but its uses is subtle and spare.  Those seeking numerous assassinations and twisted death and betrayal based on the book titles should look elsewhere.   

Her writing strong in the first two books of the trilogy, Hobb creates a brightly colored and detailed world that is easy to imagine, full of characters with depth and rapport with the reader.  Her prose is at times breathless  in describing empathy, pain, and the pastoral life.  The cities and people are rich and textured and provide a more than interesting place for both the protagonist and the reader to discover.  My complaints about the series are, firstly, that Hobb should have pruned the last book, Assassin’s Quest, by about 200 pages.  Being a fantasy fan, I am forgiving of long books, but the heartache and internal conflict were more drawn out than was necessary to express the ideas cohesively.  I'm sure Hobb wanted to finish the long series with a fitting ending, but it was extended to a point of thinness, and the climax lacked impact as a result.  Secondly, while the characters are fully human, Hobb has chosen only the best and worst of us.  Gray characterization is little and not often enough. Only the main character Fitz, the girl Molly , and the stablekeeper Burrich struggle morally, the rest flitting to the margins of good and evil.

But for all this, Hobb’s first attempt at high fantasy holds its head above the majority of the contemporary novelists attempting the classic fantasy bildungsroman.  As such, this YA fantasy comes highly recommended for anyone who has a teenager growing old too fast. That many adults read this series and enjoy it also says a lot.


  1. Hobb is my favorite author so I'm biased. But I agree with everything in your review with this trilogy. As you said, this is her first attempt at epic fantasy, so still getting the feet wet. Don't let this debut deter you from reading the next trilogies, Tawny Man and Fitz/Fool. They get progressively better - beautiful prose, character development, emotional depth. They also get much longer! But since you liked the 1000+ page Ash by Mary Gentle... (skipping over to that review)

    1. I have Ship of Magic sitting on the shelf. But, I must admit, it's daunting. Given the amount of unnecessary material Royal Assassin (the book written just prior) contains and the 700-800 pages of Ship of Magic, I'm very hesitant to dive in. Character development and emotional depth can, as the latter half of Royal Assassin proved, very quickly become aimless meandering. Hobb and Gentle have two very different writing styles, so I'm not sure enjoyment of one equals enjoyment of the other... But for sure someday, perhaps on a long trip, I will read Ship of Magic - and who knows, maybe have my daunting feelings pleasantly surprised?

  2. Do! Do read it on your next long trip, whenever that is. That's a good second step. Since you're already past the first step which is having book on the shelf. Agree that parts of Royal Assassin and Assassin's Quest were... even fan as I am, a trudging read. Ship of Magic is multi-POV, so we're not stuck with Fitz's angst and melancholy all the time, and has more moving parts. And not to give anything away, the Liveship trilogy has bearings in future series.