point of view

Recent Read - Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb

Since I started pursuing writing in the fall of 2016, Robin Hobb’s work has been on my reading list. Her name pops up on many speculative fiction “must-read” lists, and the Farseer Trilogy was a floating collection in my brain that I had intended to pin down eventually.

Guys, I devoured these books. The story was so enjoyable that it became problematic in the strength of its appeal, and my own work suffered while I read the books. Was it worth it, you ask? Absolutely.

This series was an incredible, refreshing, heart-wrenching read. Robin Hobb is a master of character development, and the quality of her writing is exquisite. Every sentence was a pleasure to take in.

This epic fantasy series is composed of, you guessed it, three books: Assassin’s Apprentice, Royal Assassin, and Assassin’s Quest. The entirety of the series is written in first-person past tense from the perspective of the main character, FitzChivalry...Fitz for short.

Here’s a quick teaser: Fitz is the bastard son of the eldest prince of the Six Duchies, King-in-Waiting Prince Chivalry. The series is Fitz’s telling of his own life, starting from his earliest memory being taken from his mother and being thrust into the care of Chivalry’s men. It’s a story about the circumstances that we’re born into, and the commitments we make. And the story leaves you fully satisfied -- it is told in its entirety, without any frustrating gaps or interesting crevices left unexplored.

The pacing is much calmer than many of the books I’ve read lately, and I found that meandering pace surprisingly enjoyable. Hobb effectively immerses the reader into Fitz’s heart, mind, and world, and I cannot express enough how brilliantly she developed and wrote this character. I can’t even recall the last time I cared about a character this much, and was surprised to find that depth of likability in a trilogy about an assassin, a male character written by a female author. Not usually my preferred read.

Here are a few writing takeaways from my reading of the Farseer Trilogy:

Don’t take it easy on your MC.

When obstacles and hard choices arise for your MC, tension is created, and the potential for conflict multiplies. What I noticed most about this story was how much crap was done to Fitz, that he was often thrust into difficult circumstances outside of his control. The result of those circumstances was my profound empathy for Fitz as the reader -- I never stopped rooting for him, and my heart broke for him often. Did he frustrate me sometimes? Yes. Did I think he acted like a moron sometimes? Yes. But despite his flaws, his troubles allowed him to remain likable, and that pulled me into the heart of his experience magnificently.

Try something new for your magic system.

It’s absolutely acceptable to borrow from existing/common magic systems for your fantasy stories. But one of the draws of the Farseer Trilogy was the unique nature of the two types of magic presented. I won’t spoil anything for you here, and maybe these ideas won’t be as new to you -- but for me, it was refreshing to discover something that was quite different than what I’d read in other fantasy.

Consider the effects of your point of view.

Third person is the most comfortable perspective for me. Every time I’ve started to write something in first person, I feel inhibited and awkward. Because of that, it’s been tempting for me to avoid first person altogether. In reality, first person offers a level of intimacy that is difficult--or perhaps impossible--to match in third person. The opposite may be true for you. My challenge for you would be to explore the “other,” and get a sense of the possibilities that the perspective offers, however awkward the initial efforts.

Resist the temptation to get caught up in the minutiae of your fantasy world. Instead, focus on what matters: people.

I can’t tell you how much time I’ve wasted trying to build a believable, realistic world for my stories. Yes, believability is important. Yes, you should spend some time world-building. But take a story like the Farseer Trilogy as an example: this is an epic fantasy, y’all. And it is epic for sure--the story spans a great amount of time and distance. While I felt completely immersed in the setting and daily life, Hobb didn’t linger on unnecessary--and I’m guessing nonexistent--details of specific distance, time, etc. This might not be a temptation for you, but for me, I always feel like I have to know the full scope of these details, even if I’m not putting them in the book. How long would it take my MC to walk from Point A to Point B over uneven forest terrain in unfavorable weather conditions?

The short answer: nobody cares. Tell the story from the inside--what would your character linger on? What do you need to communicate to your reader, to immerse them in that setting and moment?

Previously, I’ve mentioned my own personal determination for my first novel to determine exactly how much forest area would be needed to supply a nearby village for wood with a given population. That research was self-induced torture, my friends. Don’t go down that road; just tell your story. This is speculative fiction, after all! What is the fun of this genre if we restrict ourselves to the measurements and requirements of our own reality?

If you take nothing else away from this post, I hope you add the Farseer Trilogy to your list and give it a go. For those of you who have already conquered the emotional roller coaster of reading this epic story, what were your thoughts and takeaways?

As always, your reading suggestions and favorites are always welcome in the comments.