Wit, Skill and the Read

Have you seen? HarperVoyager (my former place of employ) have updated the covers for Robin Hobb’s amazing Farseer trilogy:

Photo from Dom Forbes, link: http://instagram.com/p/lPo9BhpJ1z/

Photo from Dom Forbes, link: http://instagram.com/p/lPo9BhpJ1z/

They look absolutely fantastic, thanks to beautiful new artwork from Jackie Morris and art direction by Dom Forbes. And this seems like the perfect time to talk about these books, especially as this post has been sitting, half-written, in my draft folder on the blog for almost three months.

Thanks to a cracking Kindle deal, I had downloaded the first three Robin Hobb books (Assassin’s Apprentice, Royal Assassin and Assassin’s Quest) onto my iPad to read over Christmas. I first read this series back in high school, when I was devouring as much epic fantasy as was humanly possible. In a way, it has diminished my memory of individual series. So, having worked on (and loved) some of Robin’s more recent books (The Rain Wild Chronicles, to be specific), and knowing that a return to Fitz & the Fool is coming next year, I decided to revisit this wonderful trilogy…

…what I did not expect, however, was to lose myself so utterly and completely to those words, all over again.

This is not a review. These books are classics of the genre now, pinnacles by which other works are judged – rightly so, and to ‘review’ them feels almost pointless. But I feel compelled to write about how a re-read of these works made me feel, and maybe just to marvel at Robin Hobb’s skill, the like of which I haven’t read in a long time.

Anyone familiar with these books will know of the two seemingly opposing forces of magic Hobb creates: the Skill and the Wit. The Skill is the magic of the royal family, enabling certain people to communicate and/or influence people across the miles. As it is mostly used by the royals, those who possessed The Skill are often respected and, somewhat, revered. The Wit, by contrast, connects certain people to animals – and is feared and misunderstood. Hobb’s protagonist, Fitz, is blessed/cursed with both.

From the moment I stepped back into Hobb’s world and into Fitz’s head, I was lost. Those who know the story know that while this is an incredibly immersive tale,  it’s not always a happy one. Far from it. As the reader travels with Fitz, every blow to him feels like a blow to the reader, and by the end of it I felt beaten black and blue with the bruises. Occasionally it moves with agonising slowness; this isn’t a story of non-stop action and adventure. Instead, it shows the real, human, personal, hard-hitting, sometimes magical, sometimes incredibly depressing impact of living in her world. Her magic doesn’t only give power – it takes. And, just like in real life, those dark lows Robin isn’t afraid to depict on the page make the moments of height and wonder even better. And there are plenty of those too.

Yet my connection to these books went beyond the words on the pages. In certain moments, I felt Fitz’s dark moods possess my own. How does she do it? I’ve decided it is because Robin Hobb possesses her own form of magic, that I’m going to call The Read. Somehow, she is able to reach out through the pages and imprint her characters deep in my mind. During that time, whenever I broke for air – only for necessities like eating, “being sociable at Christmas”, sleeping (occasionally), etc. – I found myself constantly tethered back to the story, with Fitz a constant presence in the back of my mind. I had to find out what happened to him. Real life struggled to compete with book life. I was right there alongside Fitz, experiencing everything he did, and no one could understand why my emotions seemed all over the place. I just needed to press the book into their hands for them to understand – that is, once I’d finished (no one could tear it from my protective clutches before that time).

Robin isn’t the only author blessed with the Read, but she’s one of its master practioners. Rarely do I find characters taking up residence in my mind in quite the same way as Fitz. My anticipation for the new book is incredibly high now, and I know it’s going to take the publishing world by storm.

And why wouldn’t it? After all, Robin has the Read and she isn’t afraid to wield it.

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One thought on “Wit, Skill and the Read

  1. Laura Lam says:

    As you know, I am in complete and utter agreement. I re-read the Tawny Man Trilogy last year (and sobbed like a baby at the end of book 1 like I always do). I just finished catching up with the Rain Wild Chronicles and August can’t come soon enough. No one catches me up in the magic of stories like Hobb.

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