From Game of Thrones to His Dark Materials, I love all kinds of fantasy. But it’s not easy to find a series that ticks off all the boxes: epic but still heartfelt, detailed but not overwhelming, and filled with characters I want to spend book-after-book with daily. More often than not, I leave a fantasy book feeling a little cheated and a little lost. But that’s never the case with Robin Hobb.
Not only does Hobb create epic and compelling stories, she’s basically the queen of worldbuilding, completely immersing her readers in an intricately-constructed world. Her characters are also so realistic that you feel like you know them – which is not always easy to pull off in books about dragons and living ships.
Robin Hobb is the pen name of Megan Lindholm, and she’s published multiple books, short stories and series under both names. But I know her best as Hobb, the author of epic series like the Farseer Trilogy, the Liveship Traders, and many more. She started writing under “Robin Hobb” in the ‘90s, when she published her first (and, in my opinion, her best) novel, Assassin’s Apprentice. Since then she’s published over 20 books, most set in her Realm of the Elderlings, the world she first introduced in the Farseer books. Her latest book, Assassin’s Fate is the conclusion to the Fitz and the Fool Trilogy, which rebooted the story of FitzChivalry and his long-time friend, The Fool. It’s as epic as her first Fitz book was, written over 20 years ago.
If you love Tolkien’s Middle Earth or George R. R. Martin’s Westeros, then you’ll be an instant fan of the Realm of the Elderlings. Filled with court intrigue, Raiders, unusual magic, and so much more, it’s a realistic, visceral place that you can’t help but inhabit every time you read one of Hobb’s novels. What started as just the Farseer Trilogy in the ‘90s has grown, with 16 books and five series set in the iconic world. And that’s not all Robin Hobb has written either, proving that her work is both prolific and endlessly enjoyable — making her our June author crush!
It’s not easy to choose my top five favorite Robin Hobb novels, but here are the ones that will always stand out to me:
It’s impossible to mention Robin Hobb without also mentioning Assassin’s Apprentice, the first book in her epic series that has spawned spinoffs, novellas and so much fan-love that it’s out of control. Count me in as one of those fans. This is the start of Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy, introducing us to FitzChivalry for the very first time. As the bastard son of Prince Chivalry, Fitz lives most of his life as an outcast, regulated to the stables of Buckkeep Castle. But it’s under the watchful eye of King Shrewd that he’s brought into the castle and trained as an assassin, which includes honing his Skill powers, a form of magic telepathy. While juggling his training, his complicated relationships (both familial and romantic), and his first few tasks as an assassin, Fitz unexpectedly finds himself at the center of a conspiracy to steal the throne, and it’s up to him to stop it – or die trying. Fast-paced, intricately plotted and completely entertaining, this is the kind of rare fantasy novel that will immediately bury its way down into your bones. Thankfully, Fitz’s story is nowhere near finished at the end of the book.
Ship of Magic (Spectra, February 2, 1999)
When I first heard about Robb’s Liveship Traders series, I was skeptical, even knowing that the story takes place in the Realm of the Elderings. A living, breathing, sentient ship? …OK, sure. But I should have had more faith. Not only is Ship of Magic (book 1 in the series) as compelling as the Farseer series, I might love it just as much as Assassin’s Apprentice. Sacrilegious, I know. Ship of Magic tells multiple stories, but focuses largely on Althea Vestrit, a member of an old Bingtown family who has always commanded the liveship Vivacia, a vessel made from wizardwood that has its own mind and awareness. This is a story of lost inheritances, of ships that have gone mad, and ambitious men who will do anything to take back what they’ve lost. There are pirates, magic, family-issues, sea serpents, traders, elder races and more. This is a magical, complex series that is as unique as it is fascinating.
Also set in her Realm of Elderlings world, this is the fourth book in Hobb’s popular Rain Wilds Chronicles. About a group of dragons born into a world that has mostly forgotten them, the Rain Wilds are about how those sickly and unwanted dragons seek protection and aid, including the dangerous journey they embark on as they search for the legendary Kelsingra. In Blood of Dragons, the group has finally reached Kelsingra, but they still can’t seem to unlock its secrets, including the silver wells they desperately need to survive. In order to save them all and with their enemies closing in, the “keepers” must go farther than they ever imagined. To make matters more complicated, the formidable dragon Tintaglia has finally returned – injured, and in desperate need of a cure. Their ragtag group of survivors will do whatever it takes to complete the final hurdle of their epic journey.
Fool’s Errand (Spectra, January 2, 2002)
It’s hard to even mention FitzChivalry without talking about The Fool, his odd friend, partner, and possible soulmate. The two have such a dynamic relationship that they seem to even transcend the romantic relationships in the books. Fool’s Errand is the first book in the Tawny Man series, which focuses more closely on the two partners as they band together once again to fight for the kingdom of the Six Duchies. At this point, Fitz has been “out of the game” for 15 years or so, trying to live a quiet life in relative solitude. But The Fool yanks him back into the intrigue, and the two set out to find Prince Dutiful, the missing heir to the Farseer throne. Only it’s not that simple, of course, and the task launches the two of them on a journey that will change their relationship forever as Fitz finally begins to fulfill his true destiny. The two also kick plenty of ass along the way, making this another fast-paced, exciting read.
Although Hobb is known for her epic fantasy, she’s also an accomplished short story writer, both under her pen name and her original name, Megan Lindholm. She’s even been a finalist for both the Hugo and Nebula awards for her short fiction, and she won the Asimov’s Readers Award. This collection brings some of her best short stories to you in a convenient package. The stories themselves are vast and differing, from epic fantasy to realistic fiction set in our modern world. If you’re a longtime reader of Hobb, then you’ll probably recognize some of the characters or worlds (like “Homecoming,” set around her Rain Wilds series). But you’ll also see a side of Hobb you may not have before, with hilarious tales and modern offerings. It turns out Hobb is just as awesome on a small-scale as she is in an epic series, making this is a must-read collection.
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