Robin Hobb: Characterisation Done Right

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Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings series includes a massive sixteen books split into five separate series. I recently completed the second book in the third series and cannot wait to pick up the next installment. Some may look at this collection of series and feel the same trepidation I get when I think of The Wheel of Time series (maybe the upcoming TV show will finally motivate me to read it). Despite loving epic fantasy, the size of these popular series can seem daunting. Yet I believe that once you enter Hobb’s world, you’ll be in it for the long haul.

The main aspect of Hobb’s writing that keeps its readers faithful is her amazing character work. I believe that this is the most important part of fantasy writing. If I’m going to commit to a series of ten plus books, those characters need to be as epic as the page count. Hobb’s first series, the Farseer Trilogy, introduces FitzChivalry. He is a royal bastard brought into the court amidst political backstabbing and magical chaos. Hobb infuses this familiar trope with her own personal style which gives her story a unique edge. She crafts an incredibly well-written friendship between Fitz and another main character, the Fool. This leaves her readers with a much-needed warm-hearted feeling as Fitz goes through tragedy after tragedy. Her second series introduces new characters before she returns to Fitz in the third series.

This third series is where Hobb takes Fitz’s character to new heights. He returns to the story as a fully grown man with a better understanding of life. The uncertainty and anxiety of youth are replaced with a more complex figure. Hobb leads the reader to consider the role of an older hero who is physically past his prime. Should he lead a simple life of anonymity or dive back into uncertainty and action? How can he balance other people’s expectations of him with the various demands of fatherhood? Can he handle the isolation and loneliness of dedicating his life to upholding the royal family? The character has gained autonomy with his years and is no longer simply swept up by events. The people he idolised during his youth no longer seem infallible and we start to see how he could step into the role of his predecessors.

Furthermore, his relationship with the Fool comes under new strains. Hobb gives us enough understanding of the Fool to keep us invested while holding so many of his secrets at bay. We see Fitz wonder how much he really knows the Fool and what their relationship to each other truly is. He questions and tests his friendship. We understand both of their perspectives and feel the pain of these two great characters as they try to reconcile friendship with their demanding destinies. There is one scene in particular that wrenched at the hearts of Robin Hobb fans. She shows us that this friendship is not stagnant, it will face its fair share of trials.

Hobb also explores Fitz’s relationships with various side characters. It is interesting to see how he navigates parenthood as he sees his adopted son repeat the mistakes of his youth. Fitz’s new attitude shows his maturity. He has learnt to be more considerate of others, yet he is not the perfect father. Fitz’s mistakes humanise him as a character. We see his frustration when he does not know how to steer his son onto the right path. Hobb is not afraid to show us Fitz’s flaws. He has made questionable decisions throughout his life and often mistrusts the people who seek to help him. but we always understand his reasoning.

Ultimately, Hobb’s continual development of the complexities of her characters and their relationships allows her slow-paced books not to feel like they are lacking in action. The daily dramas her characters face feel relatable despite their magical setting. Hobb captures the essence of Fitz in the different stages of his life and I trust that her later books will find new ways to explore this. Whatever the plot, there is sure to be great character development and interesting character interactions.

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