Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Mar 25, 2006

The Farseer Trilogy

This trilogy by Robin Hobb (containing Assassin's Apprentice, Royal Assassin, and Assassin's quest) has good points and bad points, but I think that the good is far enough outweighed by the bad that, even though I enjoyed the books, I wouldn't recommend them to anyone.

The best point is the style, which is clear, flowing, and very detailed, placing the reader within the story and making it completely real and compelling. Next best is the characterization of the many and varied people contained in the story, all of whom are self-contained individuals and utterly consistent.

The theme of the trilogy is altruism, or as Hobb explains it, sacrifice, and is actually illustrated fairly well, although it's not exactly an enjoyable one as far as I'm concerned. Those characters that give themselves completely over to sacrifice see all their hopes and dreams destroyed, but they continue on at the end in something vaguely approximating victory, while those that are driven by nothing but the immediate whims of the moment are eventually overthrown and cast down. However, the main character, Fitz, doesn't act on either of these premises; he struggles for some kind of self-interest, but like a child he never really concretizes what he wants and so he's pulled hither and yon by the actions of his elders and those with more political clout, constantly ground between the gears.

The general effect of the three novels is very grim, as Fitz is torn between a consuming duty that will devour every scrap of his life (at times so grim that it almost seems a relief to give into it), and his own desire for some unnamed and unobtainable happiness that causes him to break out in fits of childish obstinacy and petulance. His pendulum-like swinging is illustrated by the two types of magic that he possesses; the Wit and the Skill. The Skill (a sort of mind magic) represents the side of demanding duty, and he finds himself unable to use it effectively, while the Wit (a beast magic) represents an escape from the rigidly artificial and arbitrary world of humans. In the end, Fitz doesn't accomplish victory, he spends his efforts to lift those who have given up their personal identities more than he has to victory. His own life dwindles into a kind of exhausted peace of giving up.

The plot is, in my opinion, the worst aspect of these books. Hobb dances around explaining some of the fundamental issues, but never quite goes all the way into them. Some of the events seem sort of random, bursting out of nowhere with no warning whatsoever. Sometimes I wanted to smack the characters for intentionally ignoring the elephant in the room even when it was stomping all over them. I think at least some of this is the result of the fact that there's another trilogy that follows this one: The Tawny Man, that probably contains some of the explanation that would have made this one a complete story in itself.

This is why I dislike novels where one story is drawn out over the course of numerous books.

Rating: 2.5

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