Urbanist Book Review: the Farseer trilogy

Title: the Farseer Trilogy

Author: Robin Hobb

Locations of note: the Six Duchies

Urbanist Review: This series falls into the category of most fantasy novels, in regards to place: generically medieval, and reliant on conventional expectations to establish the world. Which is to say, there are castles/keeps, there are cloaks, there are swords, and there are occasionally small villages or hermit huts. The specificity of description is saved for character, so presumably every reader will use their own store of fantasy settings to fill in the background. This is certainly not unusual, nor is it generally a problem–these novels are compulsively readable, the characters well-developed, and the plot suitably unpredictable. It’s just that there’s not much to go on when it comes to location.

There are two exceptions to this characterization–when Fitz travels to the Mountain Kingdom, Hobb takes the opportunity to describe a setting that is (in both Fitz’ eyes, and the readers’) different enough to warrant elaboration. The semi-nomadic culture of the Mountain people has developed an architecture centered around outdoor garden spaces, rather than heavy stone castles. The central palace is the only permanent structure, and it is a creation of fabric and shaped trees. The generous descriptions in this portion of the novel are as welcome to the reader as the mountain colors are to characters habituated to their own stark landscape. The other area in which place becomes more than a loose background is in shaping the geo-politics of the plot. The cultural differences arising between the coastal fortresses and the inland river towns is an implacable driver of the unfolding story.