I first heard of Robin Hobb years ago and placed her book on my Goodreads TBR, but then forgot her. Luckily, I discovered booktube and Samantha’s channel, Sam’s Nonsense, where I was reintroduced to Robin Hobb. If not for Samantha’s love of Hobb’s books or her recent, ongoing readalong for Robin Hobb’s books, I would have missed out on a new fantasy series to love.
In a faraway land where members of the royal family are named for the virtues they embody, one young boy will become a walking enigma.
Born on the wrong side of the sheets, Fitz, son of Chivalry Farseer, is a royal bastard, cast out into the world, friendless and lonely. Only his magical link with animals – the old art known as the Wit – gives him solace and companionship. But the Wit, if used too often, is a perilous magic, and one abhorred by the nobility.
So when Fitz is finally adopted into the royal household, he must give up his old ways and embrace a new life of weaponry, scribing, courtly manners; and how to kill a man secretly, as he trains to become a royal assassin.
I loved it. It’s a given that I would love it because it’s the type of story I like: a coming-of-age novel where the protagonist is the underdog and is assumed to be weak or insignificant but is either stronger/smarter than everyone realizes or is more important to the story or other characters than others realize. I often root for the underdog and I love reading about the maturation of the innocent and how innocent ones have to grapple with evil, unfairness, and ambiguity in the world.
Since this is a bildungsroman, we see Fitz struggle to understand these things as he grows. He must come to terms with things that challenge his morals and his pride. He also struggles emotionally as he tries to prove himself and find companionship in a community that sneers at bastards and has no place for them.
He must also find where, and with whom, he belongs. This lack of identity is another thing I love about the story because Fitz arrives in the story without a name or history other than being the illegitimate child of the prince in line for the throne. I find this interesting because he’s almost like a blank slate and he gradually adds to his persona as the story progresses. Fitz doesn’t know who his mother is, where she is from, or where his mother’s family is. I suspect that she is one of the mountain people since Fitz took to them so easily, but maybe not. This mystery is one of the many reasons why I’ll continue with the series.
Another thing I love about the story is its structure. It’s written by an older Fitz who is recording the history of his country, the Six Duchies, but finds that the only way he can do so is by recording his own story. Therefore, we are reading his autobiography. I tend to like this story structure for coming-of-age stories, I realize, because in them the innocence of childhood and the wisdom that’s later gained are paired, but also the character’s reflection on the past, especially on past errors, often lead to deeper introspection.
But the main reason why I love this structure is because it allows the story to move quickly instead of getting bogged down in day-by-day details. I think the structure and narration of the story is sly trick by Hobb because in sections where fantasy authors would spend multiple pages discussing every hill and valley the characters pass on long journeys, Fitz would instead say he couldn’t recall all the details of the journey and would skip to the next part of the story. I appreciated that.
As for Hobb’s writing style, it’s not flowery. It’s straight-forward and detailed but not burdensome. You don’t get stuck wading through words, yet you’re able to visualize what she wants you to see. My favorite descriptive parts were of the Mountain Kingdom. It made me think of tree houses.
The characters are also great. I like Fitz from the beginning. He’s a good kid and has a level head. And Chade and Burrich are awesome too. They’re like surrogate fathers for Fitz. Prince Verity is kind and considerate so I immediately liked him, especially since he treats Fitz like family, but Lady Patience is my favorite because she’s weird and quirky (I wonder if she has the Wit). The Fool is intriguing and I’d love to know more about him and see him interact more with Fitz. They play well off each other. As for the immediate villains, I don’t think they are strong characters. They seem like caricatures to me, especially Galen because he doesn’t have much depth. However, I wonder if Regal will gain some depth later.
The various cultures in the story are fascinating to me, too, because they expand the world. Because of that, I look forward to Hobb’s other series that are based in this world, which seems to have a strong foundation. I wonder how she got the idea for it. Speaking of which, the creation myth for why some people live on land and others at sea was super cool. Including that gives greater credence to this fantastical world.
As for the current major threat, the Red-Ships, I wonder how they will be stopped and I wonder if Fitz’s gift in the Wit will help to combat the Forging. When reading about the Forging, I was reminded of the soldiers in Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle. Their ability to feel pain was taken away and so they became less human.
The story is simple, quick, entertaining, and narrated well. My only complaint is with the ending, which was too neat. I both like and dislike that it’s neat. But overall, I enjoyed the story and I highly recommend it.
Quotes from the book:
“Is it the nature of the world that all things seek a rhythm, and in that rhythm a sort of peace? Certainly it has always seemed so to me. All events, no matter how earthshaking or bizarre, are diluted wuthin moments of their occurrence by the continuance of the necessary routines of day-to-day living.”
“A ruler must be of all his people, for one can only rule what one knows.”
“Most prisons are of our own making. A man makes his own freedom, too.”
“When you spring to an idea, and decide it is truth, without evidence, you blind yourself to other possibilities.”
“That is the trick of good government. To make folk desire to live in such a way that there is no need for its intervention.” [reminds me of an article I read in The Atlantic]
“For there is a very strange peace in giving over your judgement to someone else, to saying to them, ‘You lead and I will follow, and I will trust entirely that you will not lead me to death or harm.’”
“Sometimes…it is better to be defiantly wrong than silent.”