Saturday, January 21, 2006

Robin Hobb converts reluctant readers

There's an interesting article in today's Guardian, in which Francesca Simon (of Horrid Henry fame) discusses finally allowing her 16 year old son to persuade her to read Robin Hobb. She admits

"I'm biased. I hate fantasy. All those adjectives and elves and weird names. The moment someone says fantasy, I know I'm in for "The three blood-red moons rose over the dusty sand plains of Ut-Tajik as the bald jackal priest of Sidt placed the sacred silver urn of Caldon on the broken altar of the blind god Fifff." I got bored halfway through The Lord of the Rings; why should I endure Tolkien's imitators?"

(Reading that description, I'd say Simon is about 40 years out of date !)

She goes on
"Why, I ask Josh, does he love fantasy so much? "Because they're the most enthralling stories," he says. Well, one person's enthralling is another's big yawn. But as I'm always telling people to read the books their kids love, I can put off the evil moment no longer.

Oh God, I'm trapped. Just me and the adjectives. I pick up Josh's tattered copy of Assassin's Apprentice. It's 480 pages long. The typeface is tiny. I delay opening the book as long as I can. Then finally, I start to read.

And I am hooked. Hobb is a remarkable storyteller. There are no elves. Fitz, the assassin's apprentice and the king's bastard son, has quite a good name. Hobb even keeps her adjectives on a tight lead. (Adverbs are more frolicsome.) What particularly gripped me was her exploration of the consequences of magical powers. Fitz's powerful connection with his wolf Nighteyes means that he becomes increasingly dehumanised while the wolf becomes more human, with the result that both are isolated and their nature warped. A really interesting idea, and wonderfully well imagined.

I can't help wondering how much Josh identifies with Fitz and his struggle to survive in a hostile kingdom, or whether his enjoyment is simply the fun of escaping into a thrilling new world. (The latter, Josh assures me.) After all, who wouldn't rather be on a quest than stuck in school taking endless exams?

So I was wrong. Josh isn't crazy. All fantasy can't be lumped into a stodgy heap and dismissed. I confess I've already finished books 2 and 3 of the Farseer Trilogy.

I confess, I'm overjoyed ! I'm a big fan of Hobb's work (I except Shaman's Crossing, which did nothing for me, sadly). I particularly enjoy The Farseer Trilogy and The Tawny Man Trilogy (the latter of which I'm currently half way through). Fitz and his wolf Nighteyes, and his friend the Fool, are fascinating and endearing.

Interestingly Simon persuaded her son to try reading her favourite author, Anthony Trollope - with rather less success, as he recounts in the remainder of the article !

* * * * * *

I've just finished watching the last five episodes of Buffy's season 1 - favourite quotes from "Prophecy Girl", the season finale:

Xander (of Giles): Calm may work for Locutus of the Borg here, but I'm freaked and I intend to stay that way.

The Master: You're dead
Buffy: I may be dead, but I'm still pretty, which is more than can be said for you.

Buffy: You have fruit punch mouth (right before she punches The Master in the mouth !)


Kelly said...

Hi Michele!

You did write on the same article, but I see you've actually read Hobb :) Should I give it a go?

Michele said...

Kelly, I'm surprised you've asked me that question ! Obviously you should listen to Francesca, if not to me, and read these fabulous books ! I admit not everyone likes the Liveships trilogy (the three trilogies are all linked), but it's worth reading them as well as the two trilogies about Fitz, etc., because of the links between them. I love the Farseer and the Tawny Man trilogies. Fitz is a fascinating character...

Anonymous said...

Normally, I am extremely careful to read a series in the order that the author wrote it. However, I stumbled across the Liveship Traders trilogy and somehow missed the fact that there was an entire trilogy which was supposed to come before it. I have no idea how I missed that fact, but I'm so glad I did.

Reading the Liveship trilogy first allows you to fully appreciate how wonderful that series is, but it gives nothing away about Fitz's story. For all the poor people who read the books in order, the Liveship trilogy is tainted with their disappointment that it isn't about Fitz!

The Liveship trilogy is actually my favorite of the three trilogies. The first book started off in a way that made me wonder if it was going to be the standard "young female heroine eventually proves she can cut it and gets her rightful ship back" storyline. However, I quickly realized that the characters were three dimensional and they grew and changed so much throughout the books and the world and plot threads proved satisfyingly complex. I got one of my co-workers to read the trilogy, and although she reads a lot, it was her first exposure to fantasy and she fell in love. I think it sucked her in more than the Fitz trilogy might have because there are so many regular people to relate to (from the mother, daughter, granddaughter relationships to the youthful growing pains of Althea and Wintrow).

Anyway, I got a bit sidetracked, but what I am trying to say is that, if read with an open mind and without yearning for more of Fitz's story, the Liveship Traders trilogy might actually be the best of the lot.

Michele said...

I know people who prefer the Liveships trilogy to either the Farseer Trilogy or the Tawny Man trilogy, and I accept their preference, but only one character in that series (Amber) interests me as much as Fitz, the Fool and Nighteyes...