Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy and the follow up trilogy called The Tawny Man are medievalist fantasy fiction are among the best books I’ve ever read in any genre. I lost myself in these six books, missing my subway stop more than once. I would actually get excited when my alarm went off in the morning because I knew that soon, very soon, I’d be waiting for the train and could dive into the Six Duchies with abandon.
The Farseer Trilogy follows the bildungsroman model, and like many fantasies, Fitz is of humble origins (he is the bastard son of a dead prince), yet finds himself at the center of an adventure that could change the course of history. A typical plot, yet Hobb’s attention to detail, evocative writing, and fearlessness far surpass her peers–I’m thinking in particular of David Eddings’s Belgariad, which was fun but didn’t change my life. Fitz’s story did change my life, with Hobb’s deft explorations of the nature of responsibility and the meaning of leadership, and her heartbreaking revelations about the lies we tell ourselves and others in the name of love. All this with dragons! And I’ll add that these are new, different dragons, nothing like old Smaug. She creates a whole new mythology for these overexposed fixtures of fantasy fiction.
The Fool’s Trilogy, or Fitz and the Fool, takes the journey even further. The magic that she has created for the Six Duchies is complex and rich, and interwoven in an incredibly organic way. She develops this magic even further in the Liveship Traders, which don’t focus on Fitz, and take place south of the Six Duchies. This magic, tied as it is to dragons, works splendidly on every level, as plot, in the structure, for the characters, and as theme and metaphor.