Where to start with Robin Hobb

A post at tor.com: Assassins, Pirates, or Dragons: Where to Start With the Work of Robin Hobb

This is one I can’t really weigh in on, because I haven’t read all that much by Hobb . . . oh, wait, yes I kind of can, because I have strong opinions anyway. Here are the series —

The Farseer trilogy, which I haven’t read, but which starts with Assassin’s Apprentice and includes four books; the Soldier Son trilogy, which starts with Shamen’s Crossing and which I haven’t read because it sounds grim grim grim and I don’t think I’ll ever be in the mood for that much grim; the Tawny Man Trilogy, which I haven’t read, which starts with Fool’s Errand.

And then the series I actually have read:

The Liveship Trader’s trilogy, which I liked, I guess …

Book Cover: Ship Of Magic

The Dragon quadrilogy, which I liked quite a bit …

Book Cover: The Dragon Keeper

And The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy, which starts with Fool’s Assassin; I read most of that one before giving up on it …


Plus this one, which I also haven’t read but which has an interesting horse on the cover:

Book Cover: The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince

Anyway, as far as I’m concerned, and granted that I’ve read just three of the series, the correct place to start is with the dragons.

Pluses of the dragon quadrilogy:

Most of the characters who are supposed to be intelligent and competent, are in fact at least reasonably intelligent and competent. Most of the point-of-view characters with whom we spend a lot of time are pretty decent sorts and some are really engaging. Plus, there are dragons.

Minuses: It’s a pretty slow-paced series and the dragons are not necessarily cast in the Special Telepathic Friend category of dragons. (This is also a plus, really.)

Pluses of the Liveship series:

It’s extremely well written and often engaging.

Minuses: Many (all?) of the characters who are supposed to be intelligent and competent ARE CRIPPLINGLY IMMATURE AND TOTALLY IDIOTIC. This is hard to get past.

Pluses of Fitz and the Fool:

I know, I know, it’s not fair to start here without having read the Assassin series and the Tawny man series. I will say, in fact, that the post at tor.com specifically says that Fool’s Assassin is not the place to start.

But as far as I’m concerned, there aren’t any pluses for Fool’s Assassin. The main protagonist is portrayed as both incredibly incompetent and incredibly stupid. In the opening scene, he showcases the former trait, as all sorts of people crash a party at his house, some of them assassins and some of them targets, and he completely fails to deal effectively with anything. In the later part of the book, when his post-menopausal wife is pregnant for two years and then bears a very tiny child, he is incapable of connecting the obvious dots and concluding that maybe his daughter is not supposed to be entirely normal.

Also, my goodness, the pace is simply glacial. I may like a slow-paced story, but there are limits and this novel goes waaaaaaay past them. It didn’t help that I was listening to it rather than reading it. I got within just a few chapters of the end and just could not bring myself to care how it ended.

Chime in, please! I haven’t really had the nerve to try anything else by Hobb since bouncing SO HARD off Fool’s Assassin. If you’ve read some that I haven’t, thumbs up or thumbs down? If you’ve read the intro series before Fool’s Assassin, did that background serve to make Fool’s Assassin more tolerable, as indicated by the tor.com post?

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7 thoughts on “Where to start with Robin Hobb”

  1. …I’m sorry, I think my brain stopped at the _two-year-long pregnancy_, that poor woman!

    I read Assassin’s Apprentice and part of the follow-up, Royal Assassin, years ago, but found them too much in the “absolutely everything possible conspires to go wrong for the protagonist, and every poor decision turns out even worse than you could possibly imagine” mold for my taste, similar to Carol Berg but I felt like Berg tends to have a lot of fascinating twists and reveals in her stories that keep me reading.

  2. I loved the Farseer trilogy and also the liveship traders trilogy, but could not get through the Soldier’s Son books or the dragon quadriology (too grim). I thought she wrote compellingly about the relationship between Fitz and his quasi -son. Sometimes those kind of reveals are disappointing. But not with Robin Hobb!

    Similarly, I loved the Tremaraire books but could not get through the Tongues of Serpents book. Not sure if it’s worth pushing through?

    Can’t wait to read A Sword Named Truth today.

  3. Sandstone, I think she never got that big and everybody thought she was having a false pregnancy due to psychological issues, which was not a subplot I appreciated. I grant, being stuck at like the eighth month kind of stage for two years would be unimaginably awful. Relevant trivia: elephants have a gestation period of 22 months. Just thought I’d mention that because it’s something to contemplate.

    Alison, Yes, I eventually quit with the Temeraire books as well; like you, I might eventually push through if people tell me the last book is worth it.

    Maybe I should back up to the original assassin series, but the “everything goes wrong” thing might get difficult.

    And please report back on A Sword Named Truth!

  4. I liked her work as Megan Lindholm, so I tried the Assassin trilogy when it came out. I didn’t finish it: glacial pace, incompetent characters, and stupidity. From your remarks about Fool’s Assassin sounds like it never got better. Assassin is the trilogy where I skipped a couple hundred pages, and picked back up without any sense of missing something. I gave it a couple chapters more and dropped the whole thing.

  5. The various Rain Wilds series are her best. Agree about Fitz, and did not finish the Soldier’s Son trilogy.

  6. I read the first few books of the dragon series… It’s been a while, but I remember it seemed to me like every chapter rehashed the motivations of each character over and over again. The actual plot is so interesting! But I couldn’t stand the repetition. Did you get that feeling, or was it just me? I wonder if it was because I was reading the books one after the other.

    This post just confirms that I probably won’t like any of her other works either.

    I did read the whole Temeraire series. Which I liked. But I don’t know if I’d re-read the whole thing. Something to consider.

  7. Mona, I didn’t really feel that way, but probably it helped that I read the dragon books widely spaced out.

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