“Remember with your heart. Go back, go back and go back. The skies of this world were always meant to have dragons. When they are not here, humans miss them. Some never think of them, of course. But some children, from the time they are small, they look up at the blue summer sky and watch for something that never comes. Because they know. Something that was supposed to be there faded and vanished. Something that we must bring back, you and I.”
If you’ve spent any time at all talking to me about fantasy books, you’ll know that I have a lot of love for Robin Hobb. Her Farseer trilogy was a big part of bringing me back to my love of fantasy, and The Liveship Traders books are one of my all-time favourite series.
Knowing just how much I love Robin Hobb, you might be surprised to hear that I’m actually still making my way through her work. Her Realm of the Elderlings books, which all take place in the same world, span five series, so reading through the entire catalogue could easily take a reader a full year. After almost a couple of years away from Robin Hobb’s books, I recently decided it was time to return to the realm of the Elderlings, with the third series in the collection: The Tawny Man trilogy.
Warning: Whilst I will keep this review free of major plot spoilers for The Tawny Man trilogy, it will inevitably contain huge spoilers for The Farseer Trilogy.
After The Liveship Traders introduced readers to a new cast of characters, The Tawny Man trilogy returns to the story of Fitz, the main character from The Farseer Trilogy, picking up fifteen years after the events of the final book in the series and the defeat of the Red Ship Raiders. When we re-encounter Fitz, he is living in self-imposed exile along with his adopted son, Hap, and his Wit-companion, Nighteyes. However, Fitz’s time in exile is about to come to an end when his past returns to greet him in the form of a visit from his old mentor, Chade, and then his old friend, The Fool. Kettricken’s son, Prince Dutiful, is in danger, and once again, Fitz is called upon to serve the Farseer crown.
This series introduces us to a host of new characters including Prince Dutiful, and Fitz’s daughter Nettle, and reunites us with old favourites, including Chade, Nighteyes, The Fool, and Queen Kettricken. It tells an epic fantasy story imbued with magic, politics, and heartbreak, culminating in a grand finale.
The pace of this series is mixed, with plenty of slow-burning build-ups, interspersed with immense, perilous moments and gripping action. There were only a couple of moments – mainly the beginning of the first book, and the middle of the third – when I wished the plot would move quicker. For the rest, I found myself savouring the slower sections of the books, in which Hobb explores the relationships between characters and does a great job of building tension.
“Every small, unselfish action nudges the world into a better path. An accumulation of small acts can change the world.”
The plot revolves around Fitz’s return to the world he’d previously left behind, as once again destiny calls for him to be the Catalyst. Prince Dutiful is also central to the story, and is a major component in driving the plot.
The first book, Fool’s Errand, is slow to start as it shows how the characters and the setting have changed in the last fifteen years, but builds up to some exciting action, peril, and then, heartache. The second book, The Golden Fool, focuses on Fitz and The Fool’s relationship, as friends and as Catalyst and Prophet. In a lot of ways, The Golden Fool feels like the smartest, and most carefully crafted book of the series, since the plot is seeped in mystery, and contains some satisfying links to The Liveship Traders. The third and final book, Fool’s Fate, is the climax of the series, and therefore the most epic. Whilst there are some slow moments, the final third of the book would be hard to beat, and is filled with the excitement, hardship, and bittersweet moments that Robin Hobb is known for.
This book shows how much the main character, Fitz, has changed since we last saw him, as he takes on a new role as an adoptive father. Even though he’s now older and in some ways wiser, Fitz is still as frustrating as ever, since he insists on making choices that only make his own life harder, and often hurt those closest to him, even in an effort to save them from pain. As much as I disagree with a lot of his choices, Fitz is still an interesting and incredibly complex character, and actually his flaws make him more so.
“You seek a false comfort when you demand that I define myself for you with words. Words do not contain or define any person. A heart can, if it is willing.”
The Fool is another welcome returning character in this series. As one of my all-time favourite characters, I’m glad The Fool is so prominent in this series, and that we learn more about him and explore his relationship with Fitz. I love how complex their relationship is shown to be in this series, and there are still plenty of mysteries surrounding The Fool.
Other than those couple of slower sections, my only complaint is that the very end of this series isn’t necessarily how I would have chosen for things end. For me, the bitter outweighed the sweet and in some ways left me a little frustrated and sad (though I imagine this was the aim). However, with more books left in the collection, there’s still time for the ending I’ve been hoping for.
Overall, I loved this series. It contains all the elements I look for in epic fantasy, and many that I never expected. The writing, as always in Hobb’s work, is exceptional, and the characters and plot are both intriguing. My favourite thing about the series is the relationship between Fitz and The Fool, as there are some beautiful, frustrating, and sad moments between the two. I found the sadder moments of this book really impacted me, since the characters’ pain and loss felt so real. If you liked the Farseer trilogy, this series is a must-read, since it delves even deeper into the characters and the world they live in.
“Home is people. Not a place. If you go back there after the people are gone, then all you can see is what is not there any more.”
If you’ve read this series, let me know, and we can have a more spoiler-y discussion in the comments!