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Robin Hobb Spotlight

With hRobin Hobber latest release – The Inheritance, a volume of short stories – Robin Hobb has definitely earned her place among secondary world fantasy’s most prolific authors. Although a pseudonym, Hobb has become one of the most distinctive voices in character-driven fantasy. So if you haven’t heard of her, this should serve as a brief introduction to an author you might very well want to try.

Robin Hobb’s novels occupy two worlds: the Realm of the Elderlings (a name first coined in the Legends anthology, so perhaps not entirely official), and a second post-colonial setting which includes the Kingdom of Gernia. Currently, she is the author of five series, four of which are set in the Realm of the Elderlings setting: The Farseer, The Liveship Traders, The Tawny Man, and The Rain Wild Chronicles. Although only two of the trilogies feature all of the same characters, the series do relate, with shared plot points and references. While the Farseer Trilogy follows the coming-of-age of Fitz Chivalry Farseer, the illegitimate son of the former Farseer heir, and his training as an assassin, as well as the subsequent political intrigue and war against the coastal raiders, the other trilogies take on very different subject matters.

The Liveship Traders takes up the cause of those vilified fantasy characters: the merchants, showing the conflict between Old and New Traders in the legendary trading city of Bingtown – but with piracy, magic, and more than a few remnants of an older civilisation at hand. The other two trilogies set in this world essentially serve as continuations to these two original stories – and to describe them would inevitably involve spoilers.

Hobb’s second setting is explored by only one trilogy: the Soldier Son novels, comprising Shaman’s Crossing, Forest Mage, and Renegade’s Magic. Contrasting with the more traditional setting of her other novels, the Soldier Son novels explore a post-colonial world, in which the Kingdom of Gernia has recently suppressed the tribes of the Plains, and the territory of the forest-dwelling Specks is reducing. The Inheritance (cover)However, Hobb occupies a position not quite as clear-cut as the description would suggest, and neither nation is portrayed wholly favourably – the Specks are fighting back, and Nevare Burvelle, the titular soldier son, is placed in the centre of this conflict. Although the son of a newly-made noble of Gernia, he is chosen by the Specks to thwart the Gernian conquest – against his will. Although frequently tragic – (a frequent complaint regarding the second book is that the protagonist is merely tortured by tragedy following tragedy) – the series offers an interesting exploration of both a new magic system and world, with the Gernia/Speck dilemma never as clear as might be suggested.

Although essentially character-driven (with elements of characters such as the Fool being identified in other modern fantasies – the Wit in Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings seems to have drawn at least some inspiration from this source), Robin Hobb’s series offer an exploration of their worlds’ respective magic systems, which are each placed roughly midway on the rule-based/mysterious scale. While initially rumoured and mysterious, both are explored – to an extent, as their actual mechanisms are still largely hidden, unlike – for example – the entirely rule-based systems of Brandon Sanderson’s novels.

In conclusion? Robin Hobb is an author whose work you really ought to try: if only for her inspiration of much of modern character-driven fantasy. Although mainly set in a single world, the series are varied enough to remove any repetitive element, and also attempt to tackle groups normally given a wide berth by authors: the idea of the merchant-as-protagonist, for example. Her Fitz books are also some of the–still relatively few–examples of good first person fantasy.

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6 Comments

  1. Avatar Overlord says:

    So many people absolutely love these books. Whenever the questions about most emotional, most comical, most memorable moments come up – Robin Hobb’s name is always mentioned.

    It shames me to say I have not actually read anything by her yet… however I promise that I will read something by her within the next 60 days 🙂 I’ll put up a review once I have!!!

  2. Avatar Jess says:

    Robin Hobb has for a long time been one of my favourite authors, and Fitz and the Fool two of my favourite characters. The Farseer, Liveship Traders, and Tawny Man trilogies are PURE GOLD – I recommend them to everyyyyonnneee 😀

    Nice article! Though I’m curious as to why you say ‘Although essentially character-driven […] Robin Hobb’s series offer an exploration of their worlds’ respective magic systems…’ I can’t see why the two should ever impede upon each other, if the plots are well-crafted?

  3. Avatar Rhevian says:

    I’m surprised you haven’t mentioned that she has also written several books under the name “Megan Lindholm”, eg “Wizard of the Pigeons”

  4. Robin Hobb is at the top of my fantasy favourites – I think I’ve read more of her books than I have of any other modern fantasy author (possibly more pages of GRRM though!) – not only did I love all the Farseer books I also really enjoyed the Soldier Son trilogy and thought it was a bold move to remove the possibility of traditional heroism from a character so well suited to and seemingly destined for that kind of role.

  5. @Overlord Heh, I’ll look forward to seeing it!

    @Jess: Mainly because a lot of fantasies seem to see the two as mutually exclusive: either the character is built, or the world is, when it’s possible to do both! I also mean that the exploration of these aspects also provides some of the driving force behind the novels – particularly those of The Tawny Man, IMO

    @Rhevian: I probably should have mentioned that, yes! However, I was trying to cover just the one pseudonym here, as Lindholm’s books are very different to Hobb’s

    @Mark Lawrence: That’s actually a really interesting viewpoint on Nevare, although I have to say that I thought the tragic aspects were a little too forcefully pushed at the reader in Book 2 – the harder choices in the third book, Renegade’s Magic, were far better in that regard for me, and Nevare’s two selves got some wonderful development. Have you read the Rain Wild Chronicles yet?

  6. […] Liveship Traders Trilogy, Soldier Son Trilogy, and many more. You can read more about her in our author spotlight, but for now, let’s begin the […]

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