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The Farseer Trilogy
Robin Hobb
Bantam Spectra Books
Volume 1 Assassin's Apprentice
Volume 2 Royal Assassin
Volume 3 Assassin's Quest

Assassin's Apprentice
Royal Assassin
The Farseer: Assassin's Quest
Robin Hobb
Robin Hobb, aka Megan Lindholm, was born in California in 1952. At the age of about 9 she moved to Fairbanks, Alaska, where she graduated from high school. Later, after a brief stint at the University of Denver where she majored in Mass Communications, she married and moved back up to Alaska, where she started writing under her maiden name. She started publishing her short stories about twenty years ago in small magazines. Shortlisted for the 1989 Nebula Awards in the categories of novella ("A Touch of Lavender" -- also a 1990 Hugo Award nominee) and novelette ("Silver Lady and the Fortyish Man"), she was also nominated for the Nebula for her short story "Cut." She lives in Tacoma, Washington.

Robin Hobb Website
ISFDB Bibliography: Robin Hobb
ISFDB Bibliography: Megan Lindholm
Robin Hobb Tribute Site
Another SF Site Review: The Farseer: Assassin's Quest
SF Site Review: The Farseer: Royal Assassin

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Katharine Mills

I can barely remember the last time I waited quite this breathlessly for the next instalment of a series. Certainly it was some years ago, before fantasy became The Next Big Thing, and hacks everywhere started cloning each other with reckless abandon. I'll tell you this right now: Robin Hobb's Farseer trilogy is anything but run of the mill. The first book, Assassin's Apprentice, received a well-deserved nomination in 1997 for the British Fantasy Award for Best Novel, and (in my modest opinion) the rest of the series deserves something at least as good.

The Farseer trilogy is described as a "debut," which is a little misleading; "Robin Hobb" is actually the pseudonym of Megan Lindholm, whose Wizard of the Pigeons I remember with great fondness. Clearly, she has been lurking in Washington State polishing her craft since then, because these books show a maturity and sophisticated style that goes far beyond Wizard's  charm.

This is "traditional" fantasy, if there is such a thing: a vaguely Middle Ages and Middle Europe setting, a threatened kingdom, and a central figure who is the pivot point on which all else depends. However, from there, Hobb takes it away from all the tired old story lines. Her hero, FitzChivalry, is a royal bastard, left by his nameless mother with the noble side of his family. He is an embarrassment to his royal relatives -- yet at the same time, by the mere fact of his heritage, he cannot help but be a threat to them. It's an uncomfortable situation to be in, and the reader experiences it fully with Fitz in the earlier books. His difficulties are compounded by the fact that he also shows signs, not only of the magical Skill of his Farseer heritage, but also of the Wit -- a far older talent, a form of beast magic that is feared and hated by most people.

The trilogy begins with a description of FitzChivalry's upbringing by Burrich, his father's retainer. His grandfather, King Shrewd, recognizes both his talents and his heritage by making him apprentice to the Royal Assassin, who must, by definition, be a king's most trusted and subtle servant. But when Shrewd is killed by the ambitious Prince Regal, FitzChivalry is high on the elimination list. The second book, Royal Assassin, concludes as Fitz's friends feign his death and burial to save him from Regal's malice. By the final volume, Assassin's Quest, he has become a shadow person, unable to reveal himself even to those he loves best. Most people think him dead -- and his continued existence is proof of his use of the forbidden magic of Wit.

The upbringing and political maneuvering of FitzChivalry's youth in the castle of Buckkeep is set against the threat to all of the Six Duchies' inhabitants -- the Red-Ship raiders, and their mysterious magic of Forging, which makes a human being into a killing thing, less than an animal. King Shrewd, and his heir Prince Verity, have used all their resources of men and magic to help defend Buckkeep and the Six Duchies, but by the third book Shrewd is dead, and Verity has vanished into the mountains in pursuit of a legend. The new King Regal, on the other hand, abandons the coastline to the Raiders for a life of pleasure at his inland palace.

FitzChivalry's final quest in Assassin's Quest is many-fold. First and foremost, he seeks the rightful King, whom he refuses to believe is dead. But he has also sworn to kill Regal -- not, as an assassin should, on the King's orders, but for his own revenge. He must also come to terms with his talents, and explore his bond with Nighteyes, the wolf who saved his life, and who is now his closest companion. As he journeys into the mountains after Verity, he is joined by others: Verity's queen, the mountain princess Kettricken; Shrewd's Fool, a peculiar androgyne with a gift of prophecy; Starling the minstrel; and Kettle, an old woman with a mysterious past.

This is a series about growing up, and Hobb doesn't spare us the painful moments. I think that's what I admire most about this series. A hero who invariably triumphs over all challenges is a sure sign of a second-rate writer. Hobb isn't afraid to let FitzChivalry fail, yet his failures do not diminish him. He is sometimes stubborn, often wrong, and frequently tormented by regrets, but he remains likable, intelligent and interesting. Hobb doesn't shirk either from an even harder task: acknowledging that the journey must scar the hero, and sometimes others must benefit from his labours. The end of Assassin's Quest, and of the Farseer trilogy, is not exactly sad, but at the same time it is very characteristic of Hobb's at once sympathetic and merciless writing.

The series is pure pleasure to read. Setting and character are richly detailed, beautifully brought to life and never treated as mere backdrop. In particular, the exploration of FitzChivalry's Wit bond with the wolf reveals an ability to create even non-human characters that is impressive and delightful. I could go on and on about these books... but I won't. I've recommended them to many of my friends and relations already; now I very heartily recommend them to you.

Copyright © 1998 Katharine Mills

Katharine Mills learned to read when she was three, and has never looked back. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she is legally blind without her spectacles.

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