“One can only walk so far from one’s true self before the bond either snaps, or pulls one back.” – Royal Assassin
I finally decided to dip my feet in the cool waters of the Fantasy genre a little while ago. While you could argue that Stephen King’s stories sometimes break into fantasy (most notably the Dark Tower series, which in my opinion could mask itself as any genre), they aren’t “true” fantasy tales.
A couple of my friends recommended the author Robin Hobb as my first experience, and I thought: ‘why not’. It was completely new to me; there were no adaptations out there, nobody had spoiled any endings, and the books all came in trilogies. You couldn’t get any more standard than that.
But let me emphasise here; The Farseer Trilogy is not your standard fantasy series. It is a well-written and cohesive piece of work that will stick with you long after you’ve set the last book down.
The series centres on FitzChivalry Farseer, the bastard child of a former King-in-Waiting, and his training to become an assassin for the King. This becomes difficult when as he tries to hide his hidden talent, called the Wit, from all those he know. The Wit, at its most basic, gives Fitz the ability to communicate and bond with animals. This “Beast Magic” is scorned by all, and punishable by death. Throw in the Skill, a closely guarded royal talent which allows users to communicate via great distances, or to peer into the minds of the enemies, and there is bound to be drama.
Not only does Fitz face these inner demons throughout the course of the novels, but the Red Ship Raiders begin to threaten the coastline, turning helpless village inhabitants into Forged ones; stripped of all emotion, all that makes them human, such that they savagely turn on their own.
Amidst these events, you can’t forget the textbook struggle for the throne by jealous siblings.
This series is very well written, and it does an amazing job of fleshing out the characters and scenery. All of the characters you come across feel unique. For a series that does introduce quite a few characters into the main story, this is not an easy feat. The characters on the ‘good’ side of the conflict, you tend to root for. Similarly, the antagonists actually give a sense of disgust and wariness every time their names are mentioned.
The protagonist himself, however, is not somebody I could get behind. His hot-headed, selfish and often moronic attitude seemed to repeat itself over and over. I have to resign to the fact that this is largely the point; the reluctant “Catalyst” which could shape the world also has to deal with growing up on the wrong side of the tracks (when you consider his lineage). To me, he is the male version of Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games. And like Katniss, he does go through so, so much pain. The weird thing is, sometimes I felt him deserving, based on how he treated those close to him.
When all supporting characters are stripped away and you’re left with Fitz (and his furry companion), it is very hard to read. It is a pity that this occurs for about 300 pages in the final book. All the brilliant work in developing the other characters almost goes to waste for that period when you can’t draw off their quirky behaviours to cope with Fitz’s ways.
With that 300 page journey aside, the book does pace well and each book in the trilogy has a solid sub-plot that gets adequately resolved. The ending to the entire series is also much the epic (woo dragons!). No major loose ends left, and each character gets their justice in some form or another.
These cool waters of the fantasy genre are welcome, and I don’t think I’ll get out immediately. Bring on the next trilogy!