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The Farseer Trilogy

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The Farseer Trilogy
Farseer trilogy.jpg
UK edition


AuthorRobin Hobb
Cover artistJackie Morris
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish
GenreFantasy
PublisherVoyager (UK), Spectra (US)
Published1995–97
Followed byLiveship Traders Trilogy

The Farseer Trilogy is a series of fantasy novels by American author Robin Hobb. Often described as character-driven and introspective, and also as epic fantasy, the trilogy follows the early life of FitzChivalry Farseer, illegitimate son of a prince and melancholy hero. In a shift from the author's earlier work as Megan Lindholm, the Farseer novels were penned under a pseudonym, Robin Hobb, and met with critical and commercial success.

The trilogy is narrated as a first-person retrospective, an unusual style in fantasy, with an older version of the protagonist Fitz recounting his memories of the past. Prominent plot elements include the bond between Fitz and a wolf, which has drawn attention for its themes of otherness, as well as the dichotomy between two forms of magic, the socially acceptable Skill and the despised Wit, viewed by some scholars as an allegory for queerness. The series has received praise for its characterization; it has also garnered broader recognition in the fantasy genre, with The Times describing Hobb as "one of the great modern fantasy writers" for her Elderlings novels.

The Farseer trilogy is the first of five series set in the Realm of the Elderlings, which began in 1995 and concluded in 2017. It is chronologically followed by the Liveship Traders Trilogy, which takes place in a different part of the same world, albeit with some crossover, and subsequently the Tawny Man Trilogy, where Hobb resumes Fitz's viewpoint. The three trilogies – Farseer, Liveship Traders and Tawny Man – have sold over a million copies as of 2003.

Background[edit]

Hobb in 2017

The Farseer novels were the first works written as Robin Hobb, a pseudonym of American author Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden. Her earlier writing appeared under the name Megan Lindholm, in the genres of urban fantasy and science fiction.[1] Lindholm's work was critically well-received,[2] including Hugo and Nebula Award nominations for her short fiction,[3] but did not do as well in terms of sales.[4][5] In 1995, the author shifted to writing secondary-world fantasy and adopted a new byline, Robin Hobb. This was an intentionally androgynous name chosen to match the Fitz novels, which were written in a first-person male narrative voice.[4][6]

The series incubated over a number of years, with the core idea being: "What if magic were addictive? And what if the addiction was destructive or degenerative?".[7] The first book had the working title Chivalry's Bastard, which was later changed to Assassin's Apprentice.[8] Fitz's narrative was structured as a trilogy from the beginning, with Hobb stating that the story was too complex to fit in one book and naturally broke into three parts.[9] The relationship between Fitz and the wolf Nighteyes was based on a half-wolf called Bruno that moved into Hobb's home in Alaska in the 1950s.[10] The enigmatic character known as the Fool was initially not a big part of the series' outline, but grew into a major character as the novels were written. The Farseer books went on to be critically and commercially successful, and became the first of five series set in the Realm of the Elderlings, which concluded in 2017.[5]

Plot[edit]

Assassin's Apprentice[edit]

The narrator writes a memoir of his early life. His first memory is from the age of six, when he is brought from his mother to the kingdom of The Six Duchies. There he is given the name Fitz, meaning an illegitimate son; he learns that his father is Prince Chivalry Farseer, next in line to be king. As a result of the shame of fathering a bastard, Chivalry abdicates his position and retreats to the countryside; he dies a few years later, without ever meeting Fitz.

Fitz's Farseer bloodline makes him of interest to the throne; he swears loyalty to King Shrewd and is trained in secret as a royal assassin by master Chade. His bloodline also grants him access to a form of telepathic magic called the Skill, which he ostensibly trains in under the tutelage of Skillmaster Galen; however, Galen proceeds to telepathically torture Fitz and blunt his ability to use the Skill. This is later revealed to be at the behest of Fitz's uncle Prince Regal, whose political and personal machinations against him propel the plot of the trilogy.

One of the plot threads in the series concerns Fitz's ability to use the Wit, a type of magic used to form an intellectual and emotional bond with animals. This is, however, ill-regarded by the society of the Six Duchies, and Fitz's early attempts at using the Wit are discouraged by his guardian Burrich. His first Wit bond, with a dog named Nosy, ends when the dog is sent away by Burrich to the neighboring Mountain Kingdom. Fitz later adopts another dog, Smithy, and bonds with him in secret, but Smithy is killed defending Burrich.

Prince Verity, next in line to the throne, marries Princess Kettricken of the Mountain Kingdom in order to strengthen the Six Duchies against the threat of the Red-Ship Raiders. Prince Regal also plots to kill his older brother, but is thwarted by Fitz.

Royal Assassin[edit]

Fitz's bond with his next Witted partner, a wolf named Nighteyes, forms a significant part of the plot of the series. Rescued as a young wolf from an animal hunter, Nighteyes' partnership with Fitz occurs in Royal Assassin. It develops in parallel with Fitz's friendship with the court jester, who is known as the Fool, and his romantic relationship with Molly, a young maid. Fitz attempts to keep both his Wit and obligations as an assassin a secret from Molly, but their relationship later ends with a conflict over his duties to the throne.

A parallel plot thread deals with the conflict between the Six Duchies and the neighboring Out Islands, who attack the shores of the kingdom using the Red-Ship Raiders. The raiders have the ability to turn the people of the Six Duchies into Forged ones; a form of zombification which makes them emotionless. Prince Verity attempts to wage war on the Red-Ship Raiders through his use of the Skill, and recruits Fitz as an apprentice, creating a Skill link between them. While Fitz's ability to use the Skill was blunted by Galen, he nonetheless helps in the war through the Wit, going into a berserker state where he and Nighteyes kill the Forged. They are however unable to turn the tide of the war, with Verity departing on a journey in search of Elderlings, beings from myth who may be able to help his people. In Verity's absence, Regal plots to kill his father, King Shrewd, and blame Fitz for the deed. He succeeds, resulting in a public trial where Fitz is exposed as a practitioner of the Wit, tortured and hanged.

Fitz is about to accept death, but at Nighteyes' plea, retreats to the wolf's body to survive. Burrich and Chade later exhume his human body and persuade Fitz to return to it, which he does with regret.

Assassin's Quest[edit]

Fitz spends the next several months fighting trauma and seizures, but eventually recovers. Taking on a new identity, he retreats to the edge of society and finds a community of Witted practitioners known as the Old Blood, who he stays with and learns from for a period. Fitz decides to take vengeance on and kill Regal, but is instead captured by his Skilled coterie who deceive his mind using illusions. He narrowly escapes with the help of Prince Verity, who uses the Skill through their link. Fitz learns through a Skill-dream that Molly is pregnant with their child and that both Molly and Burrich believe him dead. He wishes to return to them, but is instead compelled to find Verity due to a Skill-summons. Regal's forces continue to pursue Fitz; bleeding and injured, he collapses in the Mountain Kingdom where he is found and tended to by the Fool. There they meet Kettricken, who fled from the Six Duchies after Regal took over as King, and journey to the distant west in a quest to aid Verity.

On their journey, the group find a strange road paved with smooth stone, which Fitz terms the Skill road; it entraps Skilled users with memories of the past, making him wary about crossing it. At one point, he is consumed by the road's illusions and teleports through a Skill pillar to an abandoned Elderling city, but eventually finds his way back. The group find Verity in a quarry of Skill stone, surrounded by inanimate stone dragons. Verity attempts to carve a dragon himself and awaken it by Skilling his memories into the stone. In the process of creating his dragon, Verity loses all that makes him human. The group thwart Regal's attempts to stop their efforts, awaken the stone dragons and fly to the Six Duchies.

The trilogy ends on a bittersweet note for Fitz, who defeats Regal, the raiders and the Forged with the aid of the stone dragons, but loses his beloved Molly and their child to the care of Burrich. He masks his identity and stays an outcast, living with Nighteyes at the edge of society.

Style[edit]

While classified as epic fantasy, the Farseer novels have frequently been described as character-driven and introspective, with greater focus on the characters' internal conflicts over the external.[5][11] The protagonist Fitz has been variously termed a melancholy hero,[12] an anti-hero,[13] as akin to Hamlet,[14] and a liminal being.[15] The series is narrated in the first-person and couched as a retrospective, with an older, adult version of the protagonist looking back at his memories of the past. This has been described as an unusual stylistic choice in fantasy.[11][16] The choice of narrator colors how the story is told: rather than act as an impartial observer, Fitz reflects on and wrestles with his past experiences in an attempt to reconstruct his identity.[13]

The geography of the Six Duchies has been recognized as resembling the U.S. state of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, where Hobb lived for a number of years.[17][5]

Themes[edit]

The wolf is one of the elements of otherness portrayed in the series.

Tolerance for otherness is a theme that runs through the Farseer trilogy. According to scholar Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak, the protagonist Fitz comes to appreciate "the animal Other within his own personality" through his bond with the wolf Nighteyes.[18] Lenise Prater highlights the symbolism of the wolf in Western literature as representing nature, and the werewolf as representing "slippages between" nature and culture. Unlike in a werewolf, Nighteyes' bond with Fitz is portrayed as a relationship between two distinct beings, with the wolf valuing his privacy and independence.[19] There is an element of otherness in how Nighteyes perceives the world, which continually shapes his bond with Fitz; the wolf views the world with more immediacy and is attuned to survival.[20][21]

The books feature two forms of magic: the socially acceptable Skill, practiced by the ruling class, and the despised Wit, associated with lower classes.[22] The people of the Six Duchies consider the Wit an unnatural inclination, with its practitioners persecuted, publicly hanged and forced into hiding. This is viewed by some scholars as an allegory for queerness and homophobia.[23][24] Early in the series, Fitz's guardian Burrich aggressively disciplines him each time he uses the Wit, viewing it as emasculating, perverse, and shameful; this is despite Burrich being Witted himself. Burrich finds it difficult to speak of his Wit, having suppressed it all his life; he views the shame of being Witted as worse even than being Forged, which involves the loss of one's humanity. Scholars have described this as akin to internalized homophobia and "queer panic".[25][26] This treatment of Fitz leads him to internalize Burrich's sense of shame and retreat into the (Witted) closet.[27]

Toward the end of Royal Assassin, when Fitz is persecuted for his Wit and tortured, he takes refuge in Nighteyes' body in order to escape death. When he eventually returns to his body, it takes him several months to recover from trauma and regain his sense of self, but even afterward, he is not the same person as before. Deszcz-Tryhubczak describes Fitz's experience as a "bold initiation into self-knowledge", with his rebirth involving the other as a key component of his personality.[20] This event is accompanied by a change in how Fitz perceives his Witted identity: he more openly explores his bond with Nighteyes and encounters a community of the Witted at the edge of society. Comparing the Old Blood to a queer support group, scholar Peter Melville views the sense of belonging they impart to Fitz as essential to the self-acceptance of his identity.[28] The storyline then transitions from Fitz's personal struggle to the larger struggle for equal rights for the Witted, which is explored in The Tawny Man trilogy.[28][29]

Another form of queerness that has been a subject of study is Hobb's portrayal of the Fool.[30] A subversive aspect of the Fool's character is hinted at in Assassin's Quest, when the minstrel Starling states to Fitz: "The Fool is a woman. And she is in love with you,"[31] while the Fool says his homeland is less concerned with gender. The Fool alternately presents as masculine and feminine in different segments of the Elderlings series; this blurring of gender boundaries is explored in the Liveship Traders, Tawny Man and Fitz and the Fool trilogies.[31] The dynamic between Fitz and the Fool, described in the Farseer trilogy as "two halves of a whole, sundered and come together again" when they connect via the Skill, has also been a subject of study, and is developed further in subsequent trilogies.[32][33]

Reception[edit]

Contemporary[edit]

Assassin's Apprentice was viewed as the debut work of a new author. Publishers Weekly described the book as a "gleaming debut" in a crowded fantasy market, praising Hobb's take on political fantasy.[34] A similar review in Kirkus Reviews termed it "a remarkably assured debut".[35] Hobb's characterization was praised by several critics[36][37] including David Langford, who remarked on her construction of a "convincingly textured society" with strong characters, including women.[38] The plot was described by Booklist as well-executed although conventional;[37] Vector agreed, finding the story exciting if formulaic.[39] Fantasy & Science Fiction termed Hobb's prose "exquisite",[36] while Library Journal regarded the book as "gracefully written", with focus on themes of loyalty and trust.[40]

Royal Assassin and Assassin's Quest received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly.[41][42] Praise was directed at Hobb's "memorable characters",[41] with the wolf Nighteyes described as her best creation; PW also highlighted her "shimmering language" and stated that the trilogy had a bittersweet theme.[42] The plot of the second book drew praise from reviewers[43][44] including Kirkus, who also commended Hobb's character work.[45] The reviewer found "ominous signs" of the narrative losing control,[45] but a year later, termed the sequel an "enthralling conclusion".[46] The length of the third book was critiqued by Booklist[47] and Langford,[48] although both critics praised other facets of Hobb's writing. Langford asserted that "Hobb writes achingly well",[48] while Booklist felt the extra pages delivered in terms of characterization and an emotionally compelling story.[47] Vector disagreed, finding the trilogy's ending abrupt despite having interesting characters.[44]

Assassin's Apprentice was a finalist for the 1997 British Fantasy Award, while Royal Assassin and Assassin's Quest received nominations for the 1997 and 1998 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel.[49]

Later[edit]

Retrospective reviews have praised the Farseer novels as works of character-driven fantasy. Writing in The Times in 2005, critic Amanda Craig praised Hobb's characterization of Fitz, and stated that the bond between Fitz and the wolf Nighteyes was as "passionate as the deepest romantic love".[10] In 2014, The Los Angeles Review of Books described Hobb's novels as offering "complete immersion in Fitz’s complicated personality", and remarked on the psychological complexity of Fitz's characterization, as well as Hobb's depiction of trauma. The LARB also praised the portrayal of Fitz's internal conflicts, stating that his emotional scars shape the perspective through which the story is told.[11] The early novels were viewed by critic John Clute as a "painfully confessional memoir"; he however regarded the later entries as more streamlined, and the series as a whole as ambitious.[1] Fellow novelist Steven Erikson has remarked on Hobb's writing of Fitz's perspective, describing it as a "quiet seduction" and "handled with consummate control, precision and intent". He uses chapters from the trilogy as reading material in his workshops for writers.[50]

Hobb's novels have also received broader recognition in the fantasy genre. The Farseer trilogy, as well as its sequels, were viewed by Library Journal as "masterworks of character-based epic fantasy".[51] Comparing the first nine Elderlings novels with the works of Le Guin and Tolkien, The Times described Hobb as "one of the great modern fantasy writers", and stated that her novels were "grown-up fantasy".[10] A similar description in The Telegraph called Hobb "one of the pre-eminent writers of modern fantasy fiction" for her Six Duchies novels,[52] while The Guardian described her as "the writer to press on those who turn up their noses at fantasy".[5] The Elderlings series has also been commercially successful, with the first nine novels having sold more than a million copies as of 2003.[53]

Sequels[edit]

The Realm of the Elderlings series comprises a total of 16 novels, divided into five parts.[54] The first trilogy, Farseer, is followed chronologically by the Liveship Traders trilogy, written in the third-person and set in a different segment of the same world, but with a recurring character.[55] The third trilogy, The Tawny Man, follows after the events of the Liveship novels, and is narrated again in the first-person and from Fitz's point of view.[56] They are then followed by the four novels of the Rain Wild chronicles, and finally the Fitz and the Fool trilogy, which concludes the series.[57][58]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Clute, John (October 29, 2021). "Hobb, Robin". In Clute, John; et al. (eds.). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (3rd ed.). Gollancz.
  2. ^ Blaschke (2005), p. 55.
  3. ^ "Megan Lindholm Awards". Science Fiction Awards Database. Locus Science Fiction Foundation. Retrieved November 7, 2021.
  4. ^ a b Blaschke (2005), p. 58.
  5. ^ a b c d e Flood, Alison (July 28, 2017). "Robin Hobb: 'Fantasy has become something you don't have to be embarrassed about'". The Guardian.
  6. ^ Adams, John Joseph; Kirtley, David Barr (April 2012). "Interview: Robin Hobb". Lightspeed Magazine. Vol. 23.
  7. ^ "Robin Hobb: Behind the Scenes". Locus Magazine. Vol. 40, no. 1. January 1998.
  8. ^ Pomerico, David (June 21, 2010). "25 Years of Spectra: Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb". Suvudu. Random House. Archived from the original on March 26, 2016.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  9. ^ Blaschke (2005), p. 57.
  10. ^ a b c Craig, Amanda (September 17, 2005). "Hits and near myths". The Times.
  11. ^ a b c Teitelbaum, Ilana (September 8, 2014). "Bright Home, Dark Heart". Los Angeles Review of Books.
  12. ^ Flood, Alison (September 10, 2014). "Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb – a melancholic hero fights again". The Guardian.
  13. ^ a b Deszcz-Tryhubczak (2006), p. 187.
  14. ^ Craig, Amanda (August 14, 2015). "Fool's Quest, by Robin Hobb – book review: More swords and sorcery from a Dame of Thrones". The Independent.
  15. ^ Kaveney, Roz (1997). "Liminal Beings". In Clute, John; Grant, John (eds.). The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. St. Martin's Griffin.
  16. ^ Elliott (2006).
  17. ^ Elliott (2015), p. 188.
  18. ^ Deszcz-Tryhubczak (2006), p. 185.
  19. ^ Prater (2016), pp. 26–27.
  20. ^ a b Deszcz-Tryhubczak (2006), pp. 187–189.
  21. ^ Larsson (2021), p. 134.
  22. ^ Prater (2016), pp. 23–24.
  23. ^ Melville (2018), p. 283.
  24. ^ Larsson (2021), pp. 126, 130.
  25. ^ Melville (2018), pp. 285–287.
  26. ^ Larsson (2021), p. 130.
  27. ^ Melville (2018), p. 288.
  28. ^ a b Melville (2018), p. 289.
  29. ^ Larsson (2021), p. 132.
  30. ^ Larsson (2021), pp. 126–127.
  31. ^ a b Prater (2016), p. 29.
  32. ^ Melville (2018), p. 294.
  33. ^ Deszcz-Tryhubczak (2006), pp. 192–193.
  34. ^ "Assassin's Apprentice". Publishers Weekly. April 3, 1995.
  35. ^ "Assassin's Apprentice". Kirkus Reviews. March 1, 1995.
  36. ^ a b "The Farseer: Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb". Fantasy & Science Fiction. Vol. 91, no. 6. December 1996. p. 98. EBSCOhost 9611124567.
  37. ^ a b Green, Roland (April 1, 1995). "Assassin's Apprentice". Booklist. Vol. 91, no. 15. Gale A16849560.
  38. ^ Langford, David (September 1995). "Robin Hobb: The Assassin's Apprentice". SFX Magazine. No. 4 – via Ansible.
  39. ^ Fraser, Alan (August 1996). "Robin Hobb. Assassin's Apprentice: The Farseer Trilogy Volume I" (PDF). Vector. No. 188. p. 28 – via Fanac.
  40. ^ Cassada, Jackie (March 15, 1995). "Hobb, Robin. The Farseer: Assassin's Apprentice". Library Journal. Vol. 120, no. 5. pp. 100–101. EBSCOhost 9503177634.
  41. ^ a b "Royal Assassin". Publishers Weekly. April 1, 1996.
  42. ^ a b "Assassin's Quest". Publishers Weekly. March 3, 1997.
  43. ^ "The Farseer: Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb". Fantasy & Science Fiction. Vol. 91, no. 6. December 1996. p. 98. EBSCOhost 9611124569.
  44. ^ a b Fraser, Alan (September 1997). "Robin Hobb. Royal Assassin, Assassin's Quest" (PDF). Vector. No. 195. pp. 24–25 – via Fanac.
  45. ^ a b "Royal Assassin". Kirkus Reviews. March 1, 1996.
  46. ^ "Assassin's Quest". Kirkus Reviews. February 1, 1997.
  47. ^ a b Green, Roland (February 1, 1997). "Assassin's Quest". Booklist. Vol. 93, no. 11. Gale A19122084.
  48. ^ a b Langford, David (April 1997). "Robin Hobb: Assassin's Quest". SFX Magazine. No. 24 – via Ansible.
  49. ^ "Robin Hobb Awards". Science Fiction Awards Database. Locus Science Fiction Foundation. Retrieved November 7, 2021.
  50. ^ Erikson, Steven (April 27, 2016). "How Robin Hobb's Assassin's Apprentice Pulls the Rug Out from Under You". Tor.com. Macmillan.
  51. ^ Hollands, Neil (April 1, 2010). "Fiction's Fools: Wise and Witty Reads". Library Journal. Vol. 135, no. 6. Gale A223749292. ProQuest 196819155.
  52. ^ Shilling, Jane (August 23, 2014). "Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb, review: 'high art'". The Telegraph.
  53. ^ O'Neill, John (April 23, 2017). "Robin Hobb Wraps Up the Fitz and the Fool Trilogy with Assassin's Fate". Black Gate.
  54. ^ Larsson (2021), p. 124.
  55. ^ Prater (2016), pp. 29, 33.
  56. ^ Prater (2016), p. 33.
  57. ^ Larsson (2021), p. 125.
  58. ^ Templeton, Molly (June 7, 2019). "Assassins, Pirates, or Dragons: Where to Start With the Work of Robin Hobb". Tor.com. Macmillan.

Sources[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Deszcz-Tryhubczak, Justyna (2007). "'... Sacrifice. To Whatever Was to the Good of My Land and My People': The Utopian Political and Social Perspective in Robin Hobb's Fantasy Trilogies". In Ousley, Laura (ed.). To See the Wizard: Politics and the Literature of Childhood. Cambridge Scholars. ISBN 978-1-84718-233-3.

External links[edit]