The Tawny Man Trilogy is the second trilogy set in the realm of Six Duches. It starts 15 years after the events depicted in the Farseer Trilogy and approximately at the same time as the Liveship Traders Trilogy. Here we finally meet Fitz the narrator of the first three books – the man who in the course of events described in the Farseer Trilogy has not only matured, but has become tired of life and deeply disillusioned. Almost broken, more than once, Fitz has gotten old beyond his years, and now lives in equal measures of constant pain and promise of bliss, both caused by his addiction to Skill.
A rosy beginning, is it not? Living incognito in a small village, as far from court politics as possible, Fitz pretends to be someone else than a royal bastard turned assassin turned mage. He assumes the name of Tom Badgerlock, he even adopts an orphaned boy named Hap, and he tries his best in farmland and parenting. Needless to say that in both he fails rather miserably, to the reader’s constant glee. The only thing he excels at is writing his story, as we know from previous books – but even this is not what he exactly wanted to do, as he planned to write a history of Six Duches instead of describing his personal endeavors. But the old wounds won’t heal, old memories won’t let him rest, and thanks to them instead of the boring, dry chronicles we have been given the emotionally wringing, touching and unforgettable Farseer Trilogy.
Fitz thinks he would be content to lead the life of an outcast that he has chosen. How wrong is he in this assumption? Well, we don’t need to wait long for the answer – because his old friends soon come out, openly seeking his help. The heir to the Six Duches throne, Prince Dutiful, is missing. It’s a family tragedy, surely, but even this in itself probalby wouldn’t rate asking for Fitz’s help; they would somehow manage without him. However, Dutiful is supposed to marry an Outislander princess in a carefully prepared, diplomatic ceremony, which was supposed to create strong new ties between former avowed enemies. The lack of a tie more powerful than political agreements might easily mean a renewal of bitter hostilities between the two peoples.
Fitz is one more time sucked into a quagmire of sly, underhanded political battles; this time, however, it’s not one battle, it’s an outright war. The enemy is not what he seems; the final goal at first appears to be nothing more than a fever-dream, a fantastical delirium. Fitz’s best friend Fool seems stranger every day. And, last but not least, Fitz must find his own way of dealing with a family whose existence he has never before accepted.
It’s a delicious trilogy of books. We see some of the story lines from Farseer Trilogy coming back to life, and the deftness, the subtlety with which they are interlinked with the new ones is amazing. I loved the enormous scope of the world created by Hobb, as well as this of the utmost goal of Fool’s and Fitz’s endeavors. At the same time, however, the Tawny Man Trilogy seems very personal, almost intimate. More often than not we see Fitz embroiled in a deadly political intrigue, but there are also many private moments with those whom he holds most dear. And these moments are a real treat for readers – we witness all the problems Fitz has with coping with intimacy, with assuming responsibility for other people, with understanding their needs or even effectively communicating with them. A superhero turned human, and one who’s not particularly good at what humans do at that – it’s a rare sight in epic fantasy, heck, in fantasy in general! 😉
There’s a well struck balance between action and emotion – a lot is happening, and we see both the events and the impact they have on the main characters. In the Tawny Man Trilogy the fantastical elements of the Realm of Elderlings come to the fore and the whole system of magic, previously described as something lost in time, is at least partially revealed and restored, to the great advantage of readers.
Hobb once again proves that she is a master in creating and depicting a complicated net of subtle relations between her protagonists. There is a special place in my jaded reader’s heart for the main trio: Fitz, Fool, and Nighteyes, but there are many more intriguing personalities this time around. I wouldn’t want to spoil anything, but I really, really need to say a few words about Nettle. She is such a strong character, somewhere on the delicate border between girlhood and womanhood, deeply unsure of herself and terribly cocky at the same time. In short, a female variation of Fitz from previous books. Dutiful – well, there are some limits one can’t overcome when one’s name is Dutiful. But Hobb tries very hard not to make him too boring ;). Chade and Burrich come back as well, and it’s interesting to see how the balance between them and Fitz has changed. We see Fitz’s self-appointed fathers with his own matured eyes – as fallible, prone to mistakes, needing reassurance and love just as everybody else.
The new adventures are flung far – in space and time. There are some intriguing philosophical notions neatly interwoven into the plot, so that they seem an integral part of the story arc. There are some heartbreaking and breathtaking moments, times of triumph and grief, all masterfully blended together into one of the best fantasy works ever.
I was satisfied with the finale of the Tawny Man Trilogy – bittersweet, maybe slightly more happy than we would expect from Fitz’s adventures, but let’s be fair – it was supposed to be a definite end to Fitz’s and Fool’s story. Now we know it was not; there are already two books of the new trilogy out, and I’m quite anxious to start reading them as soon as possible!
P.S. Robin Hobb is one of the very few, very lucky writers whose books have really great covers.