FSFH Book Review

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Abnett, Dan
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Heinlein, Robert A.
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Reviewing Literature
The Books of Robin Hobb

Born in California in 1952, Robin Hobb majored in Communications at Denver University, Colorado.  She is best known for her Realm of the Elderlings books, comprising of the Farseer, Liveship and Tawny Man trilogies.
Average Review Score: 4.7 out of 5

Assassin's Apprentice
The first book of the Farseer trilogy.  Hobb takes the unusual approach of writing this story in the first person, a decision that pays off completely.  Rather than a large scale event-driven story, Hobb focuses on characters, their interactions with each other and their reactions to the escalating Red Ship War.  The story begins with a child brought into the royal castle of the Farseers.  Slowly the child, derisively named Fitz, comes to learn that he is the bastard son of the revered Prince Chivalry and as he meets his father's family, he begins to understand the significance of who he is.  This book's greatest strength is that Fitz is faced with the questions that each and every reader will be familiar with; Who am I?  What is my place in the world?  What does the future hold for me?  This allows such a deep connection to Fitz, that you'll really feel all his sorrows and joys.  The background story of the Red Ships and the Forged serves excellently to apply pressure and urgency to the story.  My one criticism is that having a character like Fitz, who is so easy to like, become something so abhorrent as an assassin, doesn't really sit well.
5 out of 5
Royal Assassin
The Farseer trilogy book two.  Where 'Assassin's Apprentice' was about a boy trying to find his place in the world, Hobb chooses a different theme for book two, but one which we can all still relate to.  'Royal Assassin' is about Fitz's coming of age.  Fitz not only has an increased importance in the court, but he also has to begin to take responsiblity for his actions and his beliefs.  This is, of course, an experience which all normal adults go through and it is therefore both exciting and nostalgic to follow Fitz on his own journey through these dilemmas.  However, it is Fitz's emotional coming of age that is by far the more compelling reading.  His relationships with people like Burrich and Verity mature enormously, but it is his love for Molly that makes for truly heart-rending reading.  Considering how the story, his love for Molly and his attempts to save the kingdom from Regal end up, I wouldn't recommend reading this if you want a happy story.  If you want a well-written, exciting book that engages both your emotions and your intellect, then you (like me) will love it.
5 out of 5
Assassin's Quest
The concluding book of the Farseer trilogy is yet another triumph for Hobb.  The author's great talent is in making characters whose life experiences are ones we all face in one form or another.  The first book was about identity, the second about coming of age and this third book is about purpose.  Fitz himself says as much on the very first page and the entire book thereafter is about his attempts to find a purpose for his life.  At first his purpose is simply a thing of selfishness, his desire to kill Regal, but later his purpose becomes one of duty and of a need to secure the future for his daughter.  The high quality of the story is much the same as the previous books and the new characters (particularly Kettle and Starling) are as thoroughly realised as any of the more familiar ones.  I do have a few negative things to say though; firstly, I felt that Hobb could have done more with the other Witted characters than she does.  The second thing is the amount of pages wasted in Fitz trying to understand how making a dragon works, we, the readers get it almost immediately, so there's no point in dragging it out.  My final criticism isn't really one to judge the book on; I would have liked a happier ending for Fitz.  He is such a tragic character and suffers so much through the trilogy, that I felt Hobb owed him something more than the life of a hermit.  Perhaps the Tawny Man books will recitfy this.  As I say though, another triumph for Hobb and well worth reading.
5 out of 5
Ship Of Magic
Set in the same world as the Farseer books, this is the first volume of the Liveship Traders trilogy.  A friend of mine assures me that this series is, in fact, a prequel to the Farseer series, but the occasional references in the book seem to suggest it's set after (perhaps the later books will reveal all).  The story follows the Vestrits, an honourable family from Bingtown who have fallen on hard times and are relying on the quickening of their Liveship, the Vivacia, to relieve their troubles.  However, as you may expect if you've read the Farseer books, things begin to go tragically wrong and soon the Vestrits find themselves at odds with one another and caught in a dangerous cycle of debt, particularly to the mysterious Rain River Traders.  Hobb's use of the third person narrative this time around allows her to incorporate a wider scope of events and a greater cast of characters into this stunningly realised nautical fantasy.  The author revels in holding back the full story from the reader, drawing us further along and deeper into her world in search of answers to the mysteries presented here.  The overarching mystery relates to the living wizardwood that Liveships are built from and it's apparent connection to the wandering sea serpents.  I was convinced that Hobb had peaked with the Farseer books.  I was very wrong.
5 out of 5
The Mad Ship
The second book of the Liveship Traders trilogy opens with the Vestrit family scattered and divided.  Wintrow is held captive by both the pirate Kennit and his unwanted bond with the liveship Vivacia and Althea is returning from her travels as a sailor, only to find that she no longer fits the mold in her native Bingtown.  The story thread which I enjoyed the most, however, was, somewhat oddly, the one which follows Malta's journey from spoiled and selfish girl to intelligent and responsible woman.  Overarching all these personal stories are the continuing mystery of the serpents and the wizardwood, as well as the growing threat of a war involving the Bingtown Traders, the slavers of Chalced and the Satrap of Jamaillia.  This is another excellently written book which deeply involves you in both it's story and, more importantly, it's characters.  The only thing I can really complain about is the fact that the book ends on something of a cliffhanger, just as all the story threads are coming to a head.  Luckily, I could go straight on an read the next book; if you can't, you'll be frustrated.
4 out of 5
Ship Of Destiny
The conclusion of the Liveship Traders trilogy, which I can now assure you is set after the Farseer books, despite what my friend said (see above).  The stories of the Vestrit family and their allies continue apace in this, yet another excellent novel.  Civil war breaks out in Bingtown, forcing it's people to rethink their relationships to one another and the city's social structure itself.  I really enjoyed the new concepts of equality being explored by the characters here, but was a little disappointed that the so-called New Traders continue to be portrayed as a somewhat one-dimensional group, used solely as antagonists.  Meanwhile the tales of the Liveships Vivacia and Paragon continue to be as compelling as ever.  I was especially pleased to learn the details of both Paragon and Kennit's pasts, as they were things that came as a complete surprise to me (although the clues were there, I suppose).  This book is another great read but is let down slightly by the too-convenient way in which several of the main story threads miraculously converge.  Hobb uses the character of Amber (who you should recognise by now) to acknowledge the unlikelihood of this convergence, but acknowledging it doesn't excuse it.  Overall, a nice conclusion to a good series.
4 out of 5

If you liked Hobb:
Then I'd certainly recommend the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin, which is similar in tone and style.  Alternatively, if you enjoy fantasy written in the first person, you might like to try 'Belgarath The Sorcerer' or 'Polgara The Sorceress' by David & Leigh Eddings.

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