My MMO Hiatus
I haven’t been spending much time in MMOs lately, probably not since mid-December. I did spend a fair bit of time with The Secret World after I got it around Black Friday, and enjoyed that. I also picked up Helm’s Deep when it was 50% off in December, and I have checked in with that from time to time as well, but I haven’t really got stuck into leveling up there.
It’s not that I’m disenchanted with my MMOs, more that there are always other things happening at that time of year. And also that sometime in November I started on a book series, and reading has taken up a lot of my free R&R time since then.
I’ve read eight books in my reading spree now. Here’s a review of the the first trilogy…
The Farseer Trilogy
Assassin’s Apprentice, Royal Assassin and Assassin’s Quest make up what is usually referred to as the Farseer Trilogy. The Farseers are the royal family of the Six Duchies, and the novels are centered on an illegitimate son of that family, Fitz, and written in the first person from his point of view.
Fitz is of course the assassin of the titles, but don’t let the word “assassin” color your impressions too much. He gets trained as an assassin, but he doesn’t do a whole lot of assassinating in the novels. I won’t tell you too much more about assassinations or lack thereof so as avoid spoilers, but if you get excited by the idea of novels about an assassin you’ll probably end up disappointed. On the other hand if that idea puts you off, don’t be put off! There’s a whole lot more in these novels about political intrigues and family loyalties than there is about assassination.
These are fantasy novels, but of a gritty semi-realistic type. For long stretches the fantasy and magic element is very low key, and they could almost be historical novels during those stretches. If dragons are mentioned in the books, you can’t be sure if there really are any actual dragons in this world, if there were once but not any more, or if they’re just completely folklore and myth, like they are in our real world.
The series works well as fantasy with interesting world-building, strong characters and gripping plots that keep you wanting to know what happens next. But their greatest strength might be the powerful human and philosophical themes that run through them and make them a bit more than just lightweight entertainment.
One theme is Fitz’s loneliness and lack of belonging. He’s not really a royal or even an aristocrat, but he can never really be a commoner either. On top of that he has many secrets, of which his covert role as an assassin is only one. And keeping secrets comes between him and other people, including the woman he loves.
A second theme is responsibilities and sacrifices. People have to choose between the life they’d like to live for themselves, and the duties that come with their birth and position. Royal marriages are about alliances and politics and what is good for the kingdom more than what you might feel for your potential spouse. Fitz himself would probably have been happiest leaving the court behind, setting up home with his love somewhere, and living a simple life as farmer or craftsman. But he’s taken oaths to the king, and the kingdom faces dangerous times.
A third theme which eventually emerges is fate and destiny. There are prophecies, but in this world you can’t really be sure if prophecies are true any more than if dragons are real. And even if they are, they don’t come true without people making them come true.
One of the marks of serious novels, particularly compared to typical genre novels, is that they connect back to your own life. They give you food for thought about how you’ve lived your life, your own relationships, the dilemmas and choices that are facing you, and so on. At times the Farseer Trilogy does do that for me.
I’ll warn you that there are some weaknesses to these books too. For one they are rather long, and get longer as the series goes on. They could have been trimmed a fair bit, leaving out various plot twists and subplots, and been all the better for it. Sometimes there are just too many chains of twists and sidetracks, and you wish you could just get on with the main story already.
I said earlier that the novels were “semi-realistic”. Part of what I meant by that is that there are many rich, deep, believable characters… but from time to time they also do unbelievable things that seem preposterous and entirely out of character. For instance sometimes major characters who’ve narrowly survived an attempt on their life and know exactly who plotted against them don’t do a darn thing about it. Not to protect themselves in future, not to strike back against the people that tried to kill them, nothing – in fact carrying on pretty much as if nothing had happened. In a less realistic novel that might jar less, but here you’re spending chunks of the novel thinking: “Gah! – no-one would be this stupid – especially not X.”
Also the main villain is not very well rounded at all. He doesn’t go about cackling evilly and going “Mwahahahaha!” but he’s almost that unsubtle and caricatured.
Overall the novels are enjoyable and worth persevering with through the rough parts. The themes and plot strands do all come together at the end, and much of the latter part of Assassin’s Quest is powerful, moving, even haunting. There are things about these books that I will remember for a very long time, flawed though they are.
If you want a star rating, I’ll say 4 stars.