Likes, Loves and Influences: Robin Hobb

Right, now that I actually have the first draft of my first chapter for book three in, I guess it’s time for another love letter to a writer, and this time it’s Robin Hobb.

The first Robin Hobb book I read is probably the one that everyone should start with: Assassin’s Apprentice. This book was recommended to me by a friend, years ago, as an interesting book about someone who is being trained as an assassin. This is essentially true, but from that description, the book was not at all what I was expecting it to be.

At this point I should mention that much, if not all of the Fantasy I had been reading up until then was fairly old. I had my own set of books, stuff like The Lord of the Rings, Weiss & Hickman’s Death Gate cycle, some of Katharine Kerr’s Deverry books, Melanie Rawn’s Dragon Prince trilogy, that sort of stuff. Solid work, but all very firmly written in third person. (Possibly omniscient too, but I don’t know for sure without checking.)

Then I started reading this book. To be fair, it’s not that much newer than the books I mentioned above, but it is definitely the first book I remember reading which was written in first person PoV.

I nearly put it down because of that. I wasn’t used to it, and it felt alien to me. That is, until I got into the story, and that happened pretty quickly. After that I devoured the rest of the book, and the two subsequent volumes. I do not believe I was ever as invested or as involved as I was with Fitz, and I must have cried buckets for all the horrible things he went through. Not just Fitz for that matter – Verity and Burrich, Molly, Kettricken and the Fool, they have all taken up a place in my head and heart that few other book characters have managed. When I discovered that there was a second trilogy I devoured that too, and through that I learnt of the Liveship trilogy. To this day I regret that I didn’t read the Liveship books before the second Farseer trilogy, because of the one character who features in all nine books. I cannot help but wonder how long it would have taken me to realise that that was the same person. I don’t want to give it away for those people who haven’t read these books, but I can only say that you should. Simply because they are among the best books I have ever read.

Anyway, the reason why these books are such an influence on me is exactly because of that first person PoV. It was probably the first time that I consciously started thinking about things like that, and how it would affect a story. I had been writing stories for a while at that point, but everything was always in third person, and it had never even occurred to me to try something else. Until Robin Hobb.

Assassin’s Apprentice is the book that made me try first person, and The Ritual was the book I tried it with. This was back in, ooh, 2006? 2007 maybe? when I first started writing the story of two half-elf twins and their adventures.

The story never really happened, of course. I drifted on to other stuff and back to third person PoV. It was what I was most comfortable with. The only reason I picked up the half-elf story again was because of a competition I wanted to enter, around about the time when I’d finished A Shire Romance and was writing short stories to follow that. Fanfic is not eligible for a proper publishing deal, so I needed something else fast, and the half-elf stuff was all I had lying around.

To go back to the original recommendation from my friend, I was surprised to find that the book wasn’t really about an assassin at all. Fitz is that, of course, but that’s not what the story is about. Essentially it is about how one man can change the world, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone who ran into so much trouble and hardship to do just that.

And then Robin started another series, and I was very excited. I bought Shaman’s Crossing in hardback, started reading it and… I abandoned it halfway through. I simply could not like Nevare, he was far too bland and too goody-goody after someone as flawed, driven and interesting as Fitz.

I still haven’t picked it up again. I don’t know that I ever will. I remember very little of it, but every time I look at it I just go ‘yeah, let’s pick something else’. Similarly, I’ve read The Dragon Keeper, and while I finished it, and have the second one waiting, I’ve not yet felt the urge to continue with that series.

Maybe Robin Hobb just peaked for me with Fitz, and nothing she’ll ever write will top that. I don’t know, but she is solely responsible for me picking the PoV of my current trilogy, and for making me stretch my muscles as a writer.

As always I’m very interested to hear other people’s thoughts. Comment please, I don’t bite!

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