I’ve been a bit distracted lately, mainly due to raiding in World of Warcraft and a few really engaging television series. But I did manage to polish off the first trilogy in Robin Hobb’s epic Six Duchies world, known as the Farseer Trilogy. I’d seen these books on many best-of lists for years but had never quite gotten “a round tuit”. A friend’s recommendation finally brought me to them (thanks Chris!) and it turned out to be one of the best recent fantasy series I’ve read. It’s easily the best coming-of-age, heroic-fantasy story I’ve read since Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller books.

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What I loved most about these books was its underlying, well-obscured theme of perpetuating cycles of behavior. Kindness begets kindness. Friendship produces friendship. Rudeness and ingratitude produce more of the same. And violence… well, violence doesn’t just hurt people, it destroys all in its path. And these things hold true not just for individuals, but for entire nation-states. Hobb developes this theme slowly and with great subtlety, and a lot of the fun comes from watching it unfold.

This is not a story with huge surprises and back-breaking plot twists. Mostly our enjoyment comes from characters coming to understand something we’ve realized for many pages, or even chapters. While that kind of device can be a little annoying, here it is used to great effect, with characters often reacting to information in unexpected ways.

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Alternate cover art. A rather obvious appeal to the popularity of Lord of the Rings, eh? 

Intriguingly, Hobb doesn’t give us a large, all-powerful state to work with here. The Six Duchies is a small kingdom, with mimimal state apparatus. Yet it has a deep history and a rich culture. And it exists within a worldly framework that calls for diplomacy and caution and the building of long-term relationships, both personal and national.

There is a standard, epic, heroic fantasy story here. But it’s really just a framework for telling us a story about relationships. Parents and children. Children without parents. Adults who are alone, and adults who are not. The tragedy of loss and the miracle of new human connections. This is the fertile soil in which Hobb grows her true story.

Since the Farseer Trilogy, Hobb has gone on to write over a dozen more books set in this universe, and I look forward to returning to it soon and often. Don’t miss this one — it’s a true gem.

Regarding the audiobook, these were capably read by Paul Boehmer. His voices are engaging and consistent, and quickly come to be identified with the characters. Less compelling are a large number of misreadings, particularly in the second book. I recommend purchasing the ebook text and pick up the audiobook as an add-on. Be ready to switch to it for clarification as needed.

Rating: 5 Stars
Audio: 3.5 Stars

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