I’ve wanted to read a really good fantasy series for a while but I knew most of them spanned several volumes and I wasn’t quite ready for something so epic. When I told a friend about my dilemma, she recommended The Farseer Trilogy and she even offered to lend me the books.
There are no words to express how much I love these books. But I can’t draw that well, or take a picture to capture the brilliant magic behind the story, and if I looked at you insisting that you must read this, that this is the most wonderful story I have read in a long time you’d probably just wave me away. So words will have to suffice, poor as they may be.
The story begins with a boy. Well, actually it starts with the man the boy has become, looking back on the events of his life. Brought to Buckkeep Castle when he was six, he is left there – Bastard, as his grandfather who abandoned him and many after will call the boy. Son of King-in-Waiting Chivalry, the boy whose name becomes FitzChivalry is given in the care of Burrich, the stable master. Then King Shrewd takes an interest in the boy and asks Chade, his old assassin, to train him. Fitz is also given lessons in combat, writing, learns how to take care of animals and follows various assignations given by the king. It is not long before he becomes a weapon, a royal assassin whose actions change the course of history. He is Changer, Catalyst, his missions known only to a handful of people. He makes enemies – Prince Regal being the one who will seek his death, and friends – Prince Verity, Burrich, and even King Shrewd’s Fool, an exotic man nobody knows much about.
Fitz is the main character – everything revolves around him, his actions, and the consequences those actions have on his friends’ lives and that of his own. There is so much detail but the story never becomes complicated. I could write a summary of each book but there are too many surprises and I don’t want to give them away. So instead I’m going to focus on a few things I found very interesting.
The Six Duchies Kingdom is raided every year by the Red Ships – fighters who burn everything and leave none alive. Except the prisoners they take and “forge”; when the people are released they are but empty shells of what they have been, very much like zombies. Everybody is baffled as to the raiders’ intentions until we get to find out the purpose of their actions. That was a shocker but in the context of the story not surprising.
The Mountain Kingdom
This made me remember that famous song by John Lennon – Imagine. The Mountain Kingdom is a place where everybody lives in harmony, where people respect nature and live peacefully, where bright colors abound, where the king and queen live to serve the people and call themselves “Sacrifice”, where there is no opulence but everybody has what they need and everybody can come and go to the royal palace as there are no guards. This was my favorite land in the book. If I could choose one place in the books to live in, that would be it.
The Wit and the Skilling
The Wit is the ability to communicate with animals but that’s just the short version. The Witted (people who possess this gift) can bond with a creature to the point where they become a single soul dwelling in two bodies. Fitz bonds in turn with some of Burrich’s hounds and ultimately with Nighteyes, a wolf cub he saves. They can share thoughts without speaking and call each other “brother”. It was quite funny following the thought process of the wolf who lives in the here and now and whose routine is hunt-eat-sleep, without a care for the future. In time, Fitz and Nighteyes begin to share in each other’s traits and ultimately the wolf saves the man’s life through a very supernatural method.
The Skilling is the ability to share in other people’s thoughts. It can be used to manipulate by putting thoughts in people’s heads, even switch bodies for a while. But it can also be addictive and too much skilling can bring about a monstrous headache and complete exhaustion. Members of the royal family can skill, and Fitz also tries although not being trained, as the custom is, he’s more prone to making some serious mistakes. Imagine someone being able to see inside your head and find out all your secrets and innermost thoughts and then use them against you. That’s where putting up walls come in handy – the ability to shield your thoughts, but this takes so much energy that in a combat you can’t both fight and keep your walls in place.
The Farseer line who rules the Six Duchies has always had names that reflected their character – the first Farseer, Taker, was the one who claimed the land for his own. King Shrewd, like his name, is a great manipulator but everything he does is for his kingdom. His sons – Chivalry, Verity and Regal, all live up to their names. Regal, the youngest son, is good looking and vain, jealous of his half-brothers (his mother is King Shrewd’s second wife), scheming and plotting murder.
The Fool and the Catalyst
King Shrewd’s Fool is quite the entertaining character – true to his name he is witty, full of tricks and extremely agile. But behind his painted face and sharp tongue he’s fiercely loyal to his king and through his riddles he tries to help Fitz as much as he can. In the last book his role becomes crucial and his purpose revealed. He reveals part of his plan to Fitz and calls him Catalyst, “the wedge I must drive into the world to change its course”.
References to The Lord of the Rings
This is something that became obvious in the last book – Prince Verity’s quest to the mountains to find the Elderlings who can help him save the Six Duchies from the Red Ships. I couldn’t help but think of Aragon and the spirits of the long ago kings, trapped in the mountain.
It’s a long quest and Verity can’t achieve his goal without help from Fitz and a handful of others. What the Elderlings are is not clear until Fitz and his group literally stumble upon them. To bring the creatures back to life, the ultimate sacrifice is required – one of the most emotional scenes in the book.
Fitz loves Molly the candle-maker, a girl he had known since childhood. He wants to marry her but his duty to the Farseer kings is above anything else and so he must suffer heartbreak, especially after he finds out Molly is pregnant.
Prince Chivalry married for love a lady named Patience, defying his father’s wishes. She cannot have children so when news of Fitz reaches her, she is heartbroken but ultimately learns to care for the boy and to protect him.
Prince Verity must marry Kettricken, daughter of the ruler of the Mountain Kingdom, in order to open up trade with the mountain folk. What seems but a cold alliance at first will gradually become a great love story.
Burrich finds love as well, and he is probably the only one truly happy, although his happiness means somebody else’s suffering. Thankfully he is innocent of that and is able to live his life in peace.
There are many things I love about this trilogy – how the author uses the beginning of each chapter to offer snippets of the history of the Six Duchies; how women have just as important a role as men – the weapon’s master was a woman, and so was a Skilling master and some of the castle guards. But the thing I liked the most was following Fitz on his adventures and seeing how his bond with Nighteyes became stronger with time. Their relationship provided most of the humor in the story and I couldn’t help but think of another famous creature – Oy the billy-bumbler from Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” series. Oy could also talk but in a more limited way, not like the wolf who does it through thought sharing, and both creatures are fiercely loyal. I was surprised how natural Fitz’s connection with the wolf seemed until I read this on Robin Hobb’s website:
“Robin Hobb is one of the world’s finest writers of epic fiction. She was born in California in 1952 but raised in Alaska, where she learned how to raise a wolf cub, to skin a moose and to survive in the wilderness. When she married a fisherman who fished herring and the Kodiak salmon-run for half the year, these skills would stand her in good stead. She raised her family, ran a smallholding, delivered post to her remote community, all at the same time as writing stories and novels. She succeeded on all fronts, raising four children and becoming an internationally best-selling writer. She lives in Tacoma, Washington State.”
I’m always fascinated by details from writers’ lives and how these details make their way into a story. Reading Robin Hobb’s short bio after enjoying this trilogy made me appreciate it even more. I was also surprised to see this is only one of the author’s pen names. Her real name is Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden.
After finishing this trilogy I immediately started on the next one called “The Tawny Man”. This follows Fitz and the Fool as they once again try to change the course of history. I was also very happy to hear there is a third trilogy in the works, “Fitz and the Fool Trilogy”, of which the first book is already written. I can’t wait to read it.
My rating: 5/5 stars
Read in March-April 2015