As I write this there’s drizzle pattering against the windows and a cake in the oven – so, time for some Autumnal comfort. Which, in my book (sorry, sorry) means reaching for The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb. Yes, all nine of then – a trilogy of trilogies.
Admitting in public to loving a fantasy book is still a bit of a weird thing for me – most people I know assume I read nothing but deliberately obscure, dust-covered philosophical oddments I’ve found in the BL, and I hate to disappoint. Hobb certainly falls into many of the conventional trappings of post-Tolkien fantasy: pseudo Renaissance/Medieval setting, re-imagining of a European past with the addition of magic etc. But three things set these books apart: an extraordinarily deep understanding of human nature, the gentle lyricism of the prose, and just about the best androgynous character I’ve ever met.
‘The Fool will always remain one of Buckkeep’s great mysteries. It is almost possible to say that nothing definite is known of him. His origin, age, sex and race have all been the subject of conjecture. Most amazing is how such a public person maintained such an aura of privacy. The questions about the Fool will always outnumber the answers.’
You know that precious, rare moment when you open a book and experience a jolt of recognition you assumed you’d never feel? These books have my heart forever because of that. A friend recommended them as a way of relaxing during A-level revision, and I wasn’t expecting anything beyond a vaguely entertaining, forgettable way of switching off. And then I read them, and found something so affirming of who I was, and what I aspired to be, that I may possibly, um, have kissed the pages in gratitude.
So. A mysterious creature, appearing sometimes as an androgynous man, sometimes as an androgynous woman, answering all questions about their gender with riddles and complaints about the stupidity of conventional sex/gender models. An unreliable narrator who can’t quite get a handle on his love for (and possible attraction to) said androgynous creature – and the bigotry directed at them by those who assume they’re a couple. A story about being an outsider, about dealing with a society that has marked you out as unacceptable, about the unfairness of the world and how you have to try to save it anyway. All that and high adventure, heartache, pirates and dragons. A comfort read that forces you to think – sheer perfection. With a slight spoiler – I don’t know what the author did with the end. Seriously. Totally confused. I like to believe that it finished on page 644 of the final volume – maybe you will too.
Good for: People who like to pretend to be living out a fantasy epic (activism as slaying monsters!), those experiencing academic brain freeze, hopeless romantics.
Bad for: People who balk at the word ‘magic’.