Escape Velocity

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As the illegitimate son of the Crown Prince, young Fitz holds a difficult position in the royal court of the Kingdom of the Six Dutchies. He is not publicly acknowledged by his family and so he grows up as a stableboy, while in secret his grandfather King Shrewd has him trained to become an assassin. At the same time, he has to learn to handle the hereditary magic that is part of his bloodline. Threats to the Kingdom, both from outside of its borders and from within, will force Fitz to consider where his true loyalties lie.

Welcome to this in-depth, spoiler-free discussion of The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb, the first trilogy in her now 16-book Realm of the Elderlings saga, which our curators Jop and Robin added to the Escape Velocity Collection, a series of items that we believe represent the absolute peak of what the speculative genre has to offer.

The Realm of the Elderlings is popular amongst our curators, and one of those items that people fight over to have the right to add to the collection – so this space is a little more crowded than usual. Still, I challenged both Jop and Robin to defend their addition to the Collection – why should we all give The Farseer Trilogy a priority spot on the top of our reading lists?

Defended By






So, before all else – when did you first read The Farseer Trilogy and why did you fall in love with it?

I started reading Assassin’s Apprentice when I was only a little sprout of ten or eleven years old. I had recently seen The Fellowship of the Ring (and obviously I loved it) and was determined to read all the fantasy that the library had to offer. The book’s cover told me Robin Hobb(it) was heavily inspired by Tolkien and, frankly, that marketing trick was enough to sway me then. Luckily, I’ve been hooked ever since.

Maybe it’s because I was roughly the protagonist’s age when I first read the Farseer Trilogy that I fell in love with it. Although his life is never really desirable, I still was jealous of the adventures he got to go on, as well as the unique relationships he forged with some of the other characters. It was very escapist.

When I reread it at later ages, however, I found I got different things out of it than before. The Realm of the Elderlings and its characters grew along with me. It was no longer solely the plot events that appealed to me, but also the characters, the worldbuilding mysteries and the various themes. Everytime I read these books, I discover something new. In my opinion, that’s what makes them masterful.

I started reading Robin Hobb’s work around four years ago now. After a relatively long period when I had been reading almost exclusively contemporary fiction, I was looking for a good fantasy series that would draw me into its world the way Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings used to do when I was younger. I asked my friends for recommendations, and of course Robin Hobb was on the top of the list of books that Jop suggested to me. It did not take long for me to get completely hooked: I raced through all 15 books in about six months, just in time for the release of the 16th and final instalment.

This series was exactly what I was looking for. It has so many characters that I fell deeply in love with, and they all felt so real to me that I actually found myself missing them after finishing the books. I like each trilogy on its own more than enough to want to add them to the collection, but what makes Robin Hobb’s works truly extraordinary to me is the way the trilogies build on each other. By the time you get to the end you have watched these characters grow up and age, and you have watched their world change around them. It might take some stamina to get that point, but I personally enjoyed every step of the way.


I know our opinions differ somewhat on this topic, so I think that characters are a good place to start. The story’s main character is FitzChivalry Farseer, the bastard son of the crown prince of a relatively generic medieval kingdom. His story starts when he is a child, and follows him as he grows up and starts going on his own adventures. How did Fitz strike you as a main character?

I love Fitz. However, most of the time my feelings for him can be summarized in the following sighing exclamation: “Oh Fitz…”

In theory, Fitz is a very smart and capable person, but his insecurities and morals tend to blind him at times. These ‘flaws’ can be frustrating, but are ultimately part of what makes him a likeable character to me. I saw some of my own inner struggles reflected in his. Certainly when I was an angsty teenager myself, Fitz acted as an instructive companion on how (not) to handle things. In some ways he is very vulnerable, and I like that in protagonists.

Agreed, I absolutely love Fitz because he is such a complex character. Even though his blindspots and stubbornness sometimes lead him to make bad decisions, I got to know his way of thinking well enough that I understand his reasoning, even though I might not always agree with the decisions themselves. 

The depth of his character is shown by the ways in which his childhood traumas clearly impact his whole way of thinking, and also in the ways he manages to lie to himself about things that he finds too painful to consider. He is so incredibly loyal to the people around him, and the fact that he is unable to see how much they love him is one of the things which makes his story so tragic. I find myself alternating between loving him, pitying him, being amused by him, being incredibly frustrated with him, and then back to loving him. Sometimes all within the space of a single paragraph.

Well, I certainly felt some of those emotions when reading about Fitz, but love… I have found from my conversations with various people that read the books that Fitz is a rather controversial, love-him-or-hate-him kind of character, with very little middle ground. Suppose you were someone like me, and after the first book, you realise you’re mostly frustrated with Fitz’ questionable and self-destructive decisions. Do you think this series is still worth reading if Fitz makes your skin crawl?

Well, I personally think it’s quite difficult to enjoy any story written exclusively from the first-person perspective of a character you dislike (you can’t really escape them). However, just in case I’m wrong about this notion, I’d say the Farseer Trilogy has an absolute stellar cast of side-characters that counterbalances Fitz. Most of these characters have their own motives and complicated backstory, which can be glimpsed between the lines long before it comes into play in the plot. And though other readers might not necessarily like all of the side-characters, I’m certain there are always at least a few who’ll speak to them. Some of my favorites? The Fool and Nighteyes, absolutely. But I can’t bear to not also name characters like Kettricken, Verity, Patience and Burrich. They are just all so very…human, in a good way. At times I almost forget they are fictional characters.

I agree, this series has so many other great characters besides Fitz. However, if you are already annoyed with Fitz after the first book, then I am afraid you will not grow to like him any better during the second and third books of this series. Honestly, in that case these books might just not be your cup of tea.


I labelled the Six Duchies, the Kingdom in which the story is set, a ‘relatively generic medieval kingdom’ above. I think that in general, ‘relatively generic medieval’ is a rather apt description of the world that Robin Hobb has created. Buckkeep, the seat of the Farseers’ throne, is something of a small, early medieval fishing town. There are some vikings raiding the shores, and a couple of tribes in the creatively named Mountain Kingdom. We can’t talk about it too much, but I feel it is only towards the end of the third book that Hobb does any worldbuilding that I feel could be called original. Am I being too harsh here?

True, Robin Hobb is not the first author to locate her fantasy series in a world vaguely resembling a (romanticised version) of medieval Europe. However, I would hesitate to call the Six Duchies ‘generic’, because to me that would mean that not a lot of attention has been paid to the worldbuilding. With Robin Hobb, this is absolutely not the case. The kingdom of the Six Dutchies has a varied geography and a well thought-out political situation that is tied to this geography. Details about the daily lives of the inhabitants and glimpses from their history and folklore make the world seem real enough that you can imagine living there. There are also some hints given about a much more distant history, through evidence of a previous civilization that has inhabited the area long before the Six Dutchies was founded. To me, the fact that the worldbuilding is detailed and believable is much more important than whether it is completely unique in its kind.

I agree with Robin. Sure, not all worldbuilding aspects will swipe originality awards, but it’s well thought out enough to give this world an unique atmosphere that fits the story. In addition, I would argue that the magic system (the Skill and the Wit), which comes into play quite early in the first book, is actually very authentic and intrinsic to the story. It maintains an excellent balance between established rules, simplicity and mysteriousness, and I have yet to encounter a magic system I enjoy just as much.


One of the things that I found most odd about the whole trilogy was the ‘Assassin’s’ moniker that Hobb gave all three books. This is a slight spoiler, but I think one that is relevant to potential future readers – Fitz isn’t what you’d expect of a classic D&D assassin, and the books aren’t assassins’ stories, about infiltration, sneaking in the dark, and cloak and dagger. If I remember correctly there are really only two assassination-related plotlines, both somewhere in the first book, and neither of them are about the assassination at all. The titles feel like false advertising to me – what do you think? Why do you think Hobb chose the titles she did?

Although I understand the sentiment that these books are not necessarily classic assassins’ stories, I must give you some resistance here. There might be some lack of assassination plotlines, but this does not negate that Fitz is in fact an assassin. I would even argue that him being a royal assassin is one of his defining character traits for the rest of the series.

At a very young age, Fitz is trained as an assassin, a tool to be used. Regardless of what he does with this training, it’s a mindset he constantly carries with him. It drives his actions and impacts his development. Thus, Fitz’ story is a story about an assassin.

But I’ll agree (along with most other fans, I believe) these titles are not great. I personally doubt Robin Hobb had much say in them, and is now only commiting to the formula. Interestingly, the Dutch translations of this trilogy are slightly more creative. Assassin’s Apprentice is translated as ‘Apprentice and Master’ while Assassin’s Quest is translated as ‘Skill and Wit’. So, when I first read these books, I wasn’t aware of the assassin advertising.

Fitz is absolutely an assassin, but while his training informs a large part of his character, I agree that it is not the main focus of the story. So in that sense the titles could be viewed as slightly misleading. But, more importantly, they are just plain bad titles. I would say I know the books pretty well, but even I have trouble remembering which book is called what. I do like the covers though, so hopefully these will still draw people to the books even despite their unimaginative titles.


I know you both love these books a lot, so let’s take a bit of a deeper dive into their message. One of the things that stood out to me is that many (if not all) of the characters in these books are locked in constant struggles – be it against themselves, an implacable foe, the world’s expectations of them, mistakes of the past – or all of them combined. It sometimes appears as if nothing is ever easy and the only thing to do is to keep swimming against the stream. In the end, that turns out to be the right choice in these books almost every time. Do you feel this applies to real life? Don’t you think that sometimes if life is that tough, perhaps you should take a different path?

Hahaha, are you saying real life isn’t a concatenation of constant struggles and obstacles?

But you’re not wrong. These characters don’t live easy lives. Sometimes months go by in which they live happily and carefree, but sooner or later a catastrophe (minor or major) will catch up to them. I might be somewhat of a pessimist (or just very unlucky), but I believe this also rings true for our very own lives. And, more often than we’d like, we have little choice than to swim against a stream, for the alternative might be easier, but is often actually less beneficial in the greater scheme of things.

Fate – and the changing thereof – is a major theme in The Farseer Trilogy and I’ve always found it inspiring how Robin Hobb handles it. Yeah, it is not easy to make a significant impact on life, to change things. It has never been easy! But still, to see Fitz and the others succeed because of their persistence, despite the hard times, makes it easier to withstand such struggles in real life. Even when the results are bittersweet, it’s very cathartic for me.

I think that a lot of the time, the main reason why the characters in these books struggle so much is that they are trying to balance their different loyalties, when these are often in direct opposition to each other. Yes, there is often an easier path that they could have chosen, but this path would mean either disappointing people they love, or giving up on their own wishes or values. Instead of choosing one or the other, they are desperately trying to find a middle ground where they can stay true to themselves while also fulfilling the expectations of their loved ones. I think the point that Robin Hobb makes is that there are no easy answers when making these decisions, but that it is worth fighting to try to get it right. That is something that I can get behind.


We’ve probably already written more text than most of you will read, so if you got here: congratulations! Let’s wrap up. I think in summary we can say The Farseer Trilogy is a heavily character-driven story about a flawed, stubborn, loyal, struggling, human protagonist set in a world that thrives in detail if not in originality. Perhaps more importantly, it is the starting point for a saga with over a dozen more books, by the end of which you might know Fitz better than you know yourself. Would that be fair to say?

You hit the nail right on the head. This series has come to mean a lot to me and while I understand that it might not be for everyone, I have no hesitation whatsoever in adding it to our Collection.

Agreed. There are few books that have managed to evoke such powerful and long-lasting emotions as The Farseer Trilogy has done for me, so their place in the Collection is well-earned!

Alright folks, that’s been us for today – but be warned, we’re far from finished. Given how crazy our curators are about it, I’m sure we’ll be discussing more Realm of the Elderlings in the future!

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