Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Latest obsession: The Tawny Man trilogy

For the past two weeks, I have been sleep-deprived yet felt little in the way of exhaustion because of my raging addiction to Robin Hobb's fantasy trilogy, The Tawny Man series. I had previously attempted to read this series after finishing the Farseer trilogy that precedes it, but gave up, perhaps due to fantasy fatigue. When I recently felt the need to be immersed in something other than non-fiction, giving The Tawny Man series anther chance seemed like a good bet.

Overall, The Tawny Man series has less action than the Farseer trilogy. The same narrator, FitzChivalry Farseer, is now a 35 year old recluse who refuses to be dragged back into his previous life as a royal bastard turned assassin, a role that ultimately required him to sacrifice love and family for the sake of loyalty to the Farseer monarchy. Like its protagonist, the books are more slowly paced and the best moments are the ones that focus on character development and interaction. Hobb's ability to imbue her characters and their relationships with psychological depth and realistic complexity is as impressive as it was in the Farseer trilogy.

Cryptic spoilers to follow.

Book One: Fool's Errand
Possibly the most satisfying book of the series because of its consistent focus on the themes of civil and paternal responsibility. The reader fails to encounter any action until the 1/3 point of the book, hence, some may find the pacing slow but I was absorbed in the reunion of Fitz with the few who know that he lives, especially the Fool, now known as the ridiculously entertaining Lord Golden. A romantic tension between these two male characters becomes palpable, in spite of Fitz's obliviousness to the Fool's subtle affection. The threat of the Piebalds, a militant group originating from a marginalized community, feels very real. The novel concludes with the rocky start of Fitz's relationship with Prince Dutiful and the devastating end of another.

Book Two: Golden Fool
Fitz reacquaints himself with his childhood home, Buckkeep, while attempting to hide his true identity as a royal bastard under the guise of the outrageous Lord Golden's servant. The majority of the story is driven by intrigue brought about by a possible political alliance with a former enemy, the Outislanders, through an arranged marriage for Prince Dutiful, and Fitz's reluctant role in it. The romantic tension between Fitz and Lord Golden builds to a devastating clash that results in the sorely felt absence of the latter character for the second half of the book. This void is partially filled by a riveting sequence in which Fitz engages a group of Piebalds and nearly loses his life, but the conclusion of the novel is marred when the relationship between Fitz and the Fool comes to a dissatisfying impasse.

Book Three: Fool's Fate
Reading the first half of this book was an exercise in frustration simply because of the narrative's unrelenting focus on Fitz's thankless guardianship of half-wit, Thick. Thick becomes the 'JarJar Binks' of the series, nearly ruining the third book by forcing both Fitz and the reader to suffer his idiotic selfishness. It is only when Thick recedes from the spotlight and the Fool/Lord Golden returns that the story picks up again. The plot quickens as Fitz and the Fool face the latter's arch rival, the Pale Woman, and Fitz must seemingly choose between loyalty to the Farseers and his friendship with the Fool in deciding the fate of a long lost dragon. While the conclusion of Fitz's relationship with the Fool is heart wrenching, the rest of Hobb's plot wrap-ups seem overly convenient. Especially disappointing is the afterthought resolution of the Piebald problem. Fitz's life is determinedly set for a happy ending, with the notable exception of his relationship with the Fool, which ends prematurely and without closure for both men - sadly much like real life.
For a more detailed assessment of Fool's Fate, I recommend the review of J.Smith "ladyofthebooks".

I feel a little relieved that I have finally finished this series since it has distracted me from functioning as a productive adult. As dissatisfying as I found the ending, wishing that it had been as ruthlessly loyal to the characters as the Farseer trilogy was, the novels kept me riveted throughout, and I would recommend them without reservation.

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