The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb, is an excellent tale chronicling the journeys of the young Fitz-Chivalry Farseer. We see him grow up in the castle stables, as he trains to become the royal assassin, and learns how to use several very unique magic systems. I like many things about this series. Not only is it fun to watch Fitz develop, his attitude changing over the years, but Robin Hobb’s world of the Elderlings itself is deeply immersive. This is one of my favorite Fantasy series. Here’s why.
Spoiler warning: As with all of my reviews, this post will touch on broad concepts in the story’s plot, characters, and setting. Specific spoiler events will not be mentioned, but generalities will be.
Magic with consequences
Magic is ubiquitous in the Fantasy genre. It is the ultimate form of wish fulfillment: the ability to snap your fingers and make something happen. But the more fantastical a magic becomes, the less interesting it is within a story. Stories are about conflict, and if the hero can just solve problems by snapping their fingers, then where’s the struggle? Magic has to have limitations, or consequences. This is captured beautifully in Sanderson’s Laws of Magic, but that is a topic for another day. Today, let’s talk about the magic systems in the Farseer Trilogy and how their limitations make them interesting.
Skilling is a magic that is also an addiction. If you do too much of it, you will be consumed by it. And for those cursed with it, using the magic is not optional. They will be haunted by it night and day, unless they take drugs that permenantly injure their magical talent. It is fascinating to see the characters in the Farseer trilogy deal with these simple ramifications. Because, while the magic can consume them, it’s also extremely useful. It can be used to see things far away. To communicate over broad distances. Basically, it’s like having psychic powers. But psychic powers that you can’t turn off, and get addicted too. Amazing stuff.
The Wit is a taboo beast magic where humans bond themselves to animals. They can see through their animal’s eyes and draw from their senses. But if they aren’t careful, they can sometimes end up as the junior member of their animal partnership. Practitioners of this magic are hated and persecuted. Witted commoners are often executed by their fellow townsfolk, simply for the crime of being witted. And even once a person bonds with an animal, that bond cannot last forever. The animal is likely to die first, leaving the human devastated at losing the partner with which they literally share their thoughts and senses.
While both of these magic systems allow the characters to do incredible things, they do those things at a terrible cost. And this makes for an interesting story. Characters constantly have to deal with the consequences of the very tools that they use to save the day. And even as they have doubts, they are forced into action through the compulsions that this magic brings on them. This truly is one of the most interesting magic systems that I have seen in Fantasy.
In The Farseer Trilogy, we get to see several different characters who I have come to love. Each of these has several different dimensions, which Hobb shows us in good detail. None of them stick to any of the old formulas, and end up feeling quite fresh.
Fitz is introduced as a young boy, but we get to see him at several different key points in his life. And that’s just in this trilogy — we get more books later. He’s also the narrator, which adds an additional dimension to his character. It is very interesting to see him evolve.
Kettricken is a leader to envy. She sees herself as Sacrifice to her people, with the responsibility to serve them above all else, even at her own expense. We get to see not only this though, but her harsh side, as she does always what must be done. Even if many of the other characters see it as an obstacle.
Chade is not just a mentor, but a courtier and a father figure. We see him take up different faces, and escape his simple role as court assassin to do so much more throughout the series. He is probably my favorite “mentor” figure in fiction.
Burrich is not just the stable keeper, but a man of honor. A father, who does what he has to do to protect those in his charge, even if it’s unpleasant.
These to only name a few. The characters in The Farseer Trilogy have so much soul. It’s amazing. And we get to see so many of them during later books as well, even after the first adventure is over.
The series gets to a slow start, which isn’t too surprising, since this is a coming of age story of sorts. But as the series develops, its scope becomes truly epic. We see Fitz go on an adventure, with high stakes and questionable odds. Characters are forced to make difficult sacrifices. And the bad guys win. A lot. But the story keeps moving, and it’s always entertaining. The Farseer Trilogy is definitely a page turner.
The Farseer Trilogy is probably my second favorite Fantasy series, after Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive. I’ll talk about that series later. But this one is a true gem, and I highly recommend it.
Overall rating: 5/5 stars
The first book in this series is Assassin’s Apprentice. It is available via Amazon in print, ebook, and audio.