Book Review: The Farseer Trilogy

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

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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7 thoughts on “Book Review: The Farseer Trilogy

  1. As I remember, the main villain you are reffering to here, is just.. Well, for the lack of better term let us just say he is blindly arrogant and his ambition is beyond help. The real villain is actually without face, and thus a real terror.
    I still remember the horror I felt when I read the books and learnt what led to the appearing of the ships, and leaving the victims of these raids empty vessels.
    It felt like a punch in the gut when I realised that nothing has changed, and all is repeating once again. This theme of forgotten knowledge, and how best intentions can lead to greatest disasters is what I loved about the trilogy.
    In the same breath, that same reason probably held me from picking up the rest of the books.

    • I understand what you mean, though it’s hard to talk about some of these things in a spoiler-free review. I think it would take away too much from people’s experience of reading the books to even hint about it.

  2. Pingback: A Year in Games and Books | Thinking Play

  3. I finally made it through the Farseer books myself, lol. I have to admit I was happy to be finishing up and moving onto something else, although I am intrigued about the other trilogies that link to them (I think there’s one to do with the fool and then another one after that; just a bit too daunting to tackle right now.) They’re definitely worth a read and I did take a lot from them, but at the same time I found some bits to be draggy and the style didn’t appeal to me much. I do think that some parts could have been slimmed down and I suppose I like things to have a little more clarification than this provided, but maybe things have been left open for the other books. Like you, this trilogy did at times make me reflect on my own life and there were some great lines to be taken from it. I remember this one sentence where he wonders whether it is possible to live amongst other people without getting hooked into their expectations; I could really relate to that. You could really feel for Fitz and sense his frustration from some of the situations he ends up in. I also absolutely adore Nighteyes :P. I’ve been starting a lot of dragons on Minecraft since reading this too. lol.

    • Well, you were already obsessed with dragons, weren’t you? 🙂

      There’s plenty more on dragons in the next trilogy, Liveship Traders, and certain things are clarified as well. That one’s even longer though, and has even more sidetracks! After that I’d had enough of Robin Hobb to last me for quite some time, though I believe there are at least two more trilogies in the series.

      • Yeah, I like a good dragon, but I’m not sure if I like them enough to share in that fate. I’d have to think about that one :P. I may go back to Robin Hobb sometime and give those books a go, I just need a break sometimes if I’ve been reading a lot from one author or a long series. I like to read a few non-fiction books or something lighter in-between before committing again.

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