✨ Spoiler Free ✨
Overall rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Robin Hobb
Books: #1 Assassin’s Apprentice; #2 Royal Assassin; #3 Assassin’s Quest
Publication year: 1995-1997
Content warnings: Death, animal death, grief, child abuse (mentioned), torture, drugs, trauma, depression, PTSD, sexual assault, suicide, parental abandonment. Since this trilogy is high fantasy and explores complex themes, there are likely to be other genre-typical content related to violence and death etc.
The Farseer Trilogy is the first trilogy in the epic fantasy series, Realm of the Elderlings. It follows FitzChivalry Farseer, the bastard son of the heir of the ruling family of the Six Duchies, on his journey through childhood and adolescence. Along the way Fitz grapples with the political tension surrounding the throne, his magical abilities, the conflict between family loyalty and duty, and being an orphan in a dark world.
What I liked
- THE CHARACTERS!!
- Character relationships and dynamics
- Focus on familial and platonic relationships
- Strong character development
- Attention to detail
- Writing style and prose
- World building
- Interesting magic system
What I disliked
- Slow pacing
- Lack of plot
- Unsatisfying endings
- Unrealised potential
- Lack of focus on certain characters and relationships
Plot and Structure
The general plot underpinning this trilogy surrounds the Farseer family, Fitz’s paternal family and the royal family in the kingdom of the Six Duchies. The bastard son of the King’s eldest son, Fitz’s presence in Buckkeep Castle creates tension with his youngest uncle, Regal. Solely told from the first-person POV of Fitz, this trilogy is an intense character study of Fitz. It’s not plot heavy, it’s the story of Fitz’s family and kingdom through his eyes, and explores themes of loyalty and duty, family and sacrifice.
Despite getting off to a relatively slow start in the first book, I enjoyed the plot, particularly in Royal Assassin (Book #2). There was lots of tension built across the three books and conflict between the characters was expertly woven in a multitude of ways. Although each book focused on different stages of the overall plot, there was a continuity that made it felt like one cohesive story. The type of action I’d typically expect in high-fantasy wasn’t present here, nonetheless, the complex character dynamics, how this intersected with the fragility of the Farseer’s power in Buckkeep and other character sub-plots, was more than enough to keep me invested in the plot.
Structurally, each book is divided into multiple chapters beginning with sections of narration about the history of the Fareer’s, Buckkeep and other world-building information. The fact that Fitz is the sole POV character is perhaps unique for a high-fantasy trilogy like this but it worked incredibly well. Fitz is at the centre of everything that happens throughout the three books; it is his existence and presence that shakes the foundation of the Farseer’s future and the events that unfold involve him. It’s interesting to reflect on how the singular POV impacts the perception the reader has of the world and the other characters, and the extent to which Fitz can sometimes be an unreliable narrator.
World Building and Magic
The world building in this trilogy was a slow-burner. Apart from the small sections of world-building at the beginning of each chapter, Hobb managed to generally avoid info dumping. Instead, details about the world were scattered throughout the three books and revealed when necessary. Hobb isn’t one to tell the reader every single thing about her world just because, it’s always intentional and with purpose. This has its pros and cons. On the one hand, I liked that the world-building was introduced slowly as it became relevant to the plot and the characters. On the other hand, even after reading three books set in the world, there’s still a lot I don’t know and mysteries left to unravel.
Although it didn’t bash me over the head with world-building, I felt grounded in the world. I could mentally picture the setting and experience the world through Fitz’s eyes clearly. But despite feeling connected to the physical appearance of the world, I didn’t feel very connected to geography, cultures or social structures that exist in the world. Because the story was so centred on the royal family and rather insular with geographical location (particularly in the first two books) there was little time spent on exploring fabric of the Six Duchies or other kingdoms outside of the Six Duchies.
The magic system is one of my favourites that I’ve read in fantasy. There are two main magics that form the system – the Wit and the Skill. Both magics are based on concepts of telepathy with the former relating to animals and the latter being exclusive to humans. Like the world, the magic system doesn’t have any hard and fast rules and the information about how these magics work is slowly built on throughout the trilogy. The Wit is a simpler form of magic which is easier to grasp, but the Skill has many complexities which I’m still grappling with. It’s a magic where much of the knowledge and understanding of it has been lost, so there’s still lots to discover. The magic is a central component of the story throughout because it’s part of Fitz and how he perceives and interacts with the world. As the plot developed, magic became more of an integral part to the plot rather than just a character trait of Fitz’s. I’m excited to continue learning about the Wit and the Skill, and also other types of magic that might emerge throughout the rest of the Realm of the Elderlings series.
Robin Hobb’s writing style is absolutely stunning and her technical ability in writing is phenomenal. This is an author that knows how to write and does it well. Her prose made me feel like I was submerging myself into a hot tub under the stars; a beautiful combination of physical warmth and beautiful visuals, that I could linger in all day long. It immersed me into the fantasy world, but also Fitz’s inner mental and emotional world. Her writing is very character focused and I reaped the rewards for that, because of how connected I felt to Fitz. There are few authors that can capture every single thing that goes into making a person, but with Fitz, Hobb did exactly that. His every thought, emotion, desire and motivation was meticulously crafted and laid out. There’s a clear stylistic tone to the way Fitz perceived and processed the world that was present throughout the writing. There was also an emphasis on emotion; a melancholy and to an extent depressive tone, that permeated through. I’m a huge fan of emotion in writing, so this was probably one of my favourite aspects of Hobb’s writing style, but it may not necessarily be to everyone’s tastes, particularly fantasy readers that prefer plot and action over character work.
Outside of character writing, the descriptive style of the writing also brought the world to life in a very vivid way. Although the descriptions of the physical surroundings weren’t unnecessarily long, they were detailed enough to enable me to build an image of the setting in my mind. Generally, Hobb has easily made her way onto my favourite authors list and I can’t wait to read more of her work.
Stop thinking of what you intend to do. Stop thinking of what you have just done. Then stop thinking that you have stopped thinking of those things. Then you will find the now. The time that stretches eternal, and is really the only time there is. Then in that place, you will finally have time to be yourself.#2 Royal Assassin
Characters and Relationships
Unsurprisingly, the characters are the heart of this trilogy and character driven fantasy readers need look no further than Hobb. As the POV character, Fitz received the most attention and was consequently the most developed. An argument could easily be made for Fitz being one of the most complex and well-written protagonists in fantasy. So much was invested in him that it felt like he could walk off the page and into the world. He’s a character that I feel that I understand very deeply and relate to. Fitz was a joy to read about and I think it would be unlikely for anyone to read this trilogy and not come away in love with him. I’m excited to read more from him in future trilogies.
Although the other characters in the trilogy weren’t as well developed as Fitz, they all had nuance and some were even more likeable or intriguing than Fitz. The core group of characters mostly remained the same throughout the three books with some minor changes, particularly in Book #3. As a whole, the supporting characters were fairly complex and whole-rounded people. I wouldn’t necessarily describe them as morally grey but certainly flawed. My personal favourites were The Fool, Nighteyes, Patience, Burrich and Chade, all of whom are intriguing characters with complex backstories and motivations that were sometimes explored, but not always given the time and attention they deserved. The Fool, in particularly, had me glued to the page. The mystery surrounding them and the part they play in the wider plot and Fitz’s life story was fascinating and I cannot wait to read more from Fitz and The Fool.
As with any character driven book, the character dynamics wrote themselves and were bloody brilliant. There was lots of emphasis on familial and platonic relationships and although there were romantic relationships featured, they were never a huge focus. Fitz’s familial ties with his grandfather, Shrewd and his uncle Verity, along with his surrogate father-figure, Burrich and great uncle Chade, made for some of the most interesting and enjoyable dynamics to read about. These men shaped Fitz and were hugely influential in his life in different ways. Likewise, his friendship with The Fool and Nighteyes, are so fundamental to his character that meeting and knowing these characters only deepened the connection I felt to Fitz. It’s these and the other character dynamics that shaped Fitz and drove the plot forward. Most of the relationships, although characterised by love, were fraught with tension, uncertainty and resentment. Many of these relationships weren’t plain sailing or easy for Fitz to navigate, but felt all the more authentic and relatable because of that. My one criticism when it comes to the characters and relationships would be that I felt that some characters and relationships were dropped in Book #3 that I really enjoyed reading about in the first two books and wanted more from. However, I’m willing to compromise with this since I know I’ll be returning to Fitz in later trilogies and will likely hear more from the characters that were sidelined in Book #3.
The Faresser Trilogy is a melancholic, character driven fantasy set in a unique universe underpinned by political unrest and tension. Despite the slow pacing and lack of plot in some areas, it’s a captivating story of family, duty and sacrifice. Its first-person POV narrative provides an intensely emotional journey and connected me deeply to the protagonist, Fitz. Whilst the slow pacing was off-putting in places, this was balanced out by Hobb’s stunning prose and complex character work. The quality of the characters resulted in incredible character dynamics which explored the nuance of familial and platonic bonds and how this can shape the people we can become. The simplistic but intriguing magic system played a vital role in developing the characters, character relationships and plot, and was fun to learn about. Although the plot was at times neglected, the political tension and intrigue underpinning the trilogy was well developed and reached satisfying conclusions for the most part. These components came together to create a riveting and unforgettable fantasy story and character journey which took me on an emotional rollercoaster and left me feeling deeply connected to Fitz and his loved ones. I’m highly anticipating reading more about this world and to returning back to Fitz after finishing the next trilogy in the series.
I’d recommend The Fareseer Trilogy if:
You’re looking for a character driven melancholic fantasy with an interesting but simple magic system, flawed characters, strong platonic and familial relationships and a plot of political intrigue that explores the theme of family versus duty.
Have you read The Farseer Trilogy or are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!
Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.