|Submitted by Allie |
(Jan 30, 2009)
I love the Farseer Trilogy. While the Six Duchies does not feel as well-developed and steeped in history as Tolkien's Middle-earth, what Robin Hobb does not emphasize in setting she more than compensates for in her heroes, some of whom are among my favorites in literature. This is a stellar character-driven work, half epic fantasy and half coming of age story, that offers a painfully honest yet cautiously optimistic illustration of human individuality from its heights of honor to its inevitable imperfections. Hobb does a great job combining action with introspection and the book hits just the right philosophical pitch, at least for this 20-year-old reader.
The story centers on FitzChivalry Farseer, following his life from an ambiguous young age to early adulthood. In the beginning of Assassin's Apprentice, a six- or seven-year-old Fitz is delivered to live at the royal palace of Buckkeep with his uncle, King-in-Waiting Verity; throughout the early chapters it is revealed that his own father, Chivalry, had once been in line for the throne but abdicated in disgrace after the birth of his illegitimate son. As a bastard, Fitz is unable to assume the usual courtly roles of a prince -- but Verity and Chivalry's father, King Shrewd, has his own plans for his grandson.
Through the best first-person narrative I've read to date, Hobb effectively reveals life in Six Duchies society as seen by Fitz and the frustrations faced by her protagonist in a kingdom that never will recognize him as royalty but equally never will hesitate to force the burdens of Sacrifice on his shoulders. As the story progresses, Fitz slowly realizes that he is not alone in the struggle to balance his individuality and personal happiness against the responsibilities inherited with birth and occupation. Verity, Burrich, Kettricken, Chade, Kettle, and the Fool round out a complex cast of genuine, believable characters who might sometimes be mildly irritating in their humanity but you can't help respecting at their best and understanding at their worst.
As may be said for the vast majority of books I enjoy, the fantasy elements are secondary to the broader thematic undercurrents. Fitz is gifted with the Wit and the Skill, and the powers and limitations of these magics define his role in court society and by extension the trajectory of the main action. Between battles against the Red-Ship raiders and hunts with Nighteyes the wolf, there is no shortage of adventure and otherworldliness. Ultimately, however, the Farseer Trilogy is about nothing more or less than universal ideals of friendship, trust, and loyalty, and the constant but sometimes reluctant pursuit of self-fulfillment. The story is familiar, but this engaging and well-written retelling is one to beat; I recommend it without reservation.