Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Written Word Wed. - Skill and Wit

Here it is, the long-promised review of Robin Hobb's Farseer trilogy, a review which is sure to disappoint one and all with its lack of depth and paucity of wordiness following the huge delay.

Been trying to figure out the best way to do my book reviews; I think I'll try to stick to the format from my Genre fiction class; plot synopsis, followed by analysis of book as format of its Genre, followed by personal reaction. We'll see how long that lasts.

The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb.

In the land of the Six Duchies, the members of the royal Farseer line (so called because of their facility with the magic known as The Skill) are each named for some virtue of attribute which tradition holds determines their personality. Prince Chivalry, next in line for the throne, seems to be a shining example of this tradition until it is discovered that he has fathered a fitz, i.e. a bastard son. Disgraced, Chivalry abdicates his right to the throne to younger brother Verity, and he and his wife leave the palace at Buck-Keep. Meanwhile, his son, known only as Fitz, is placed in the care of Chivalry's right-hand man, the stablemaster Burrich. Burrich soon discovers that Fitz possesses the power of The Wit, a forbidden talent that allows men to communicate with animals; Burrich forbids Fitz from using his Wit, but it's a difficult thing for him to put aside. After a while Fitz draws the attention of King Shrewd, who moves Fitz into the main palace and begins his education in the art that will define Fitz's live; the art of assassination.

The first book in the trilogy, Assassin's Apprentice, traces the early days of Fitz's life, as he tries to balance his secret life as a royal assassin with his regular life in the castle. He and his mentor, Chade, are among the first to discover the true horror of the Red-Ship Raiders and their mystic terrorism known as Forging. As the threat of the Red-Ships and the Forged increases, Fitz becomes more integral to the defense of the kingdom, especially once he discovers a plot against Prince Verity by one of the king's most trusted advisors.

The second book, Royal Assassin, finds the attacks of the Red-Ship Raiders increasing, causing increasing friction among the duchies, providing ample opportunity for the opportunistic Prince Regal to enact his plans to usurp the throne. When Prince Verity decides that the only way to defeat the Raiders is to undertake a quest to locate the mythical Elderlings and ask for their aid, Fitz suddenly finds himself at the center of political intrigue without his strongest supporter.

The third book, Assassin's Quest, follows right on the heels of the calamitous events of the last book; a disillusioned Fitz has only one thought on his mind: revenge against those who have wronged him. But a mystical compulsion from the long-missing Verity obliges Fitz to undertake a quest to locate his prince and determine if the myth of the Elderlings is real.

The Farseer trilogy is part of the Epic Fantasy sub-genre, focused as it is on a young nobody thrust into the battle between "good" vs. "evil." I suppose being a royal bastard kind of stretches the definition of "nobody" a little bit, but the fact remains that, in the beginning, Fitz has little to no social standing. Like most of my favorite Fantasy novels, Hobb's series is a totally new world cut from whole cloth; she doesn't rely on the now-cliché Tolkien worldview, nor does she draw straight from an AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide.

I liked this series quite a bit. I think the first book was probably my favorite, since it managed to hook my interest with its new world and mythology without falling into the plot pitfalls of the later two. Perhaps “pitfalls” is too strong a word; maybe I should say “pet peeves.” There are certain types of plots which I have little patience for; the second and third books in the trilogy exhibit two of them. First is the “two lovers torn apart because of assumptions and misunderstandings” plotline which, luckily, did not come to consume the series as I feared it would. Second is the “evil character rises to position of power and nobody but the hero can tell he’s evil” plotline, which is fine in small doses, but if it lasts over more than one book in a series, it wears me down. Neither of these plotlines were enough to drive me away from the series, but they definitely affected my enjoyment somewhat. But the one thing that the second and third book had going for them was an increased use of The Fool, a strange androgynous albino who sees the future and talks in riddles. The Fool’s quips and jabs at those around him were some of my favorite pieces of dialogue in the series; I’m glad to see that the follow up trilogy The Tawny Man will have a big focus on him.

If I keep doing this in-depth review thing, I might actually come up with a rating system of sorts; for now, I’ll just settle for a “highly recommended to fans of Fantasy.”


anna said...

I'm glad that you liked it. I have a feeling the "Liveship Trader" trilogy also has much to do with The Fool. Since I haven't read it though, I can't be certain.

Cap'n Neurotic said...

Yeah, I read that the Tawny Man books contain things from both the Farseer and Liveship Traders books, which is why I went ahead and bought the Liveship books; well, that and my need to read all of an author's books in chronological order.

The Liveship Traders trilogy is next on my reading list, unless the new Amy Tan book I have on hold comes in for me first.