I recently finished reading the first tree trilogies of Robin Hobb’s Realms of the Elderings world (I have no intention of reading the Rain Wilds Chronicles which follow them, however). I had read the Farseer trilogy, the first of them, a long time ago, and then had to wait in line to read the second trilogy, the Liveship Traders. While waiting for the first book, I moved on and never started reading them again, until about a month ago at the request of one of my brothers. I proceeded to fly through the Liveship Traders and then The Tawny Man trilogies, and now I can put aside that world and move on with my life and past my brother’s nagging.
I have very mixed feelings about Robin Hobb’s writing, and this trilogy of trilogies. The most memorable aspect of every one of the nine books with the characters. Without a doubt, Robin Hobb is a master of character creation and development. Every character was deep, rich, and realistic; you could identify with every single character. At the same time, every single character was also flawed. In the Liveship Traders, I found myself admiring the depth of the characters while simultaneously hating each and every one of them. They were too flawed, and by the end I found I had no sympathy for any of them. While it’s hard to identify with perfect characters, we are also often loathe to associate ourselves with overly imperfect ones, and as a result I spent my time reading the Liveship Traders being infuriated at everyone. However, she wove a very rich tapestry of inter-character relations, in both that trilogy and in the Tawny Man trilogy.
The Tawny Man books were much better than the Liveship Traders. I actually liked almost every single character, and felt that the interplay between them was almost perfect. Interestingly, the narrator of both this trilogy and the first Farseer trilogy, FitzChivalry, evoked two very different responses from me in both sets of books. In the Farseer books, I hated Fitz, and had trouble reading them because I had no sympathy for him. He was whiny and made so many stupid mistakes it frustrated me to no end. In the Tawny Man books, however, I was very sympathetic to him (save for a few cringe-wothy moments), and instead felt as if everyone else was a jerk to him, rather than the other way around.
Her writing style is also magnificent. It flows very well, and she is truly able to immerse the reader in the world she creates. Though the books were often needlessly long, and sometimes nothing of substance happened for whole books (then again, GRRM is even more guilty of this sin), there was never a dull moment, both due to her ability to make the reader want to know what happens to the characters and to her very well-written and flowing prose.
Conversely, she has a bit of trouble with plot and world-creation. The plots were rather simplistic and somewhat predictable, and the world always seemed to me to be only half-imagined. Still, both were good enough to keep me engaged, even if there was a lot of room for improvement.
Would I recommend these books? I’m not sure. While her writing is amazing and characters are deep and real, her pacing can be off and a great deal of her characters are terrible people who I hated. However, she managed to still make me care about most of them (save Kennit at the end of the Liveship Traders, when Robin Hobb slipped into a rape apologist mindset, which infuriated me). I felt for the first two trilogies like I was being dragged along, and I was frustrated by the characters and plot, but at the same time I couldn’t put them down. The last trilogy was much, much better than the previous two, and was worth reading. I’m just not sure if it was good enough to justify the previous two trilogies.