“Men cannot grieve as dogs do. But we grieve for many years.”
Well, I’ve been on this journey of rereading a bunch books/series that I’ve loved over the years, since I read them before I got into blogging. Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings books are worth so much more than the few words I mentioned on Goodreads the first time I read it. I’ll be transparent from the start, I absolutely adore this entire series and I’m very curious to see how each individual books holds up in my memory. I will say that to me, there’s very few series that can hold a candle to RotE. The worlds, characters, and storylines that she built and connected over 16 books is absolute genius, and I can truly say that from where she started to where she ends was this masterful journey, powerful and delicate all at once. This book is a 5 stars for me. I can see how it would rate lower for others, because it’s a lot of character building and reads almost like a prologue, but I LOVE the process of character development. Hobb is tactfully building the groundwork of what makes RotE so amazing. I was hooked on Fitz and The Farseer Trilogy from the moment I dipped my toes into Assassin’s Apprentice the first time.
“I think myself cured of all spite, but when I touch pen to paper, the hurt of a boy bleeds out with sea-spawned ink, until I suspect each carefully formed black letter scabs over some ancient scarlet wound.”
If you’re a lover of beautiful prose, Hobb is easily among the greats. She’s one of those authors that reminds us that fantasy isn’t just a genre for people that love magic, dragons, and sword fights (though they’re definitely a bonus). She writes with compassion, with words that reach deep into your soul and pluck on your heartstrings. Hobb is capable of writing in this extremely intimate manner, as if she’s able to find these deep, hidden parts of yourself and reveal them to you. Let this be a warning: there’s tragedy in every bit of her writing, but there’s also tenderness and this ability to pick you—and her characters—up, teaching you to carry on even after she’s just broken your heart. It is such a beautiful reflection of what real life can be like, these moments that make your heart ache just to think about them and the way life goes on after. The way life can still be sweet after enduring so much trauma.
“All events, no matter how earthshaking or bizarre, are diluted within moments of their occurrence by the continuance of the necessary routines of day-to-day living. Men walking a battlefield to search for wounded among the dead will still stop to cough, to blow their noses, still lift their eyes to watch a V of geese in flight. I have seen farmers continue their plowing and planting, heedless of armies clashing but a few miles away.
So it proved for me”
I love that Hobb starts our story out with a moment that leaves us wanting to know more about the characters and then DOESN’T give us more. It puts us more into the mind of a child, in those patchy bits of memories that don’t entirely make sense but we recall them nonetheless. This moment leads us to the mystery surrounding Fitz’s mom and his father, Chivalry. It’s impossible to not be curious about their relationship and what happened between them, but we don’t NEED that information. And though we may long for it, Hobb firmly shuts that door behind us and ushers us into Fitz’s life, which isn’t shaped by his biological parents very much at all, except for the fact that he’s a royal bastard. In fact, it’s made pretty clear that Chivalry thought he was doing the best for his son by not being an influence in his life. I admire that Hobb doesn’t dally about trying to tie up their histories, they are just shadows in the background of this journey.
I love the naming system. It’s this way of Hobb acknowledging that parents set these lofty goals for their kids by naming these virtues into existence, but also a nose rub at the way parents often set themselves up for disappointment. You can hope and aspire for your kid to be something but even if they achieve that, they’ll achieve it in their own way, and they might make horrible mistakes along the way. It’s human nature. For example: Chivalry wholly lived up to his name, until a weak moment with a woman other than his wife (who he truly loved). By all accounts, Chivalry isn’t a bad guy, in fact, he’s one of the best men people know… but he did this discourteous thing that had huge consequences. Patience is the epitome of her name, but she is often brusque with Fitz when she’s teaching him. Regal is certainly lush and extravagant, but doesn’t carry himself in the way we hope a good, benevolent noble would.
“It was inside me. The more I sought it, the stronger it grew. It loved me. Loved me even if I couldn’t, wouldn’t, didn’t love myself. Love me even if I hated. It set its tiny teeth in my soul and braced and held so that I couldn’t crawl any further. And when I tried, a howl of despair burst from it, searing me, forbidding me to break so sacred trust.
It was Smithy.”
Hobb weaves a subtle magic system around us almost immediately, and employs one of my favorite devices, which is mental magic. I have said before, I love mental magic because it makes magic make sense. Instead of some outlandish system, it’s so delicate and natural. It’s believable. The Skill is an innate telepathic magic that is specific to the Farseer line. The Wit is especially brilliant because it takes that warm, special feeling that an animal lover experiences when around a furry friend and turns it into a magical ability, a gift (or a curse if you want to listen to the ignorant people in the Six Duchies). Guys… I love animals. I love animal companions in novels. This acknowledgment of the way animals can fill a void, the way they can heal and support you. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve read in fantasy. Between The Skill and The Wit, this is one of the most gently built magic systems I’ve ever read, Hobb doesn’t come out and define it word for word for you. She shows it to you slowly, as if it’s the most natural thing.
“Very little worth knowing is taught by fear,” Burrich said stubbornly. And, more warmly: “It’s a poor teacher who tries to instruct by blows and threats. Imagine taming a horse that way. Or a dog. Even the most knot-headed dog learns better from an open hand than a stick.”
Simply put, I love these books. I love this amazing and vast world she has already started to build in book one, that we are only seeing a small portion of. We already hear whispers of the Rainwilds and Elderlings in passing. I found myself noticing things that become really important later on that didn’t catch my attention on the first read. I love these characters. From Verity, the most noble. To the Fool, who sees more than most. To Patience, who loves freely. To Burrich, who protects people and creatures, big and small. To Kettricken, who sacrifices. To Chade, who serves faithfully. To Fitz, who experiences many hardships and never hardens his heart. Who was brought up by the aforementioned people, who made an odd sort of family out of them. Who learned from them and built himself into a man out of their guidance and love. Who took a small part of each of them and learned from their experiences.
“Too late to apologize, I’ve already forgiven you.”