With more than a million copies of her books sold to date, Robin Hobb (a pseudonym) is one of the most successful and popular fantasy writers working today. The Realm of the Elderlings books continue to hit the bestseller lists, and with Fool’s Quest, book two of The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy, which revisits her most popular characters, out tomorrow, Hobbmania is heating up once again. With such longevity comes the plight of the newbies—those who have heard how awesome Hobb’s books are, but are intimidated by the sheer number of them, all under separate trilogy banners. So, where should you start with Robin Hobb? And where should you go from there?
Start at the start
The obvious answer is to start with Hobb’s “debut,” Assassin’s Apprentice, and continue with its two sequels in the Farseer triology, Royal Assassin, and Assassin’s Quest. FitzChivalry Farseer, affectionately known as Fitz, narrates the story in a voice that is absorbing, entertaining, and thoroughly human. It is the complex tale of a royal bastard with a talent for magic who trains as an assassin and becomes embroiled in schemes for the throne. Framed as a memoir written by an elderly Fitz, it’s a story of his life and adventures—adventures that allow him to make emotional connections with animals, including one very special dog (oh, that dog); adventures that leave him broken and near-death at the end of the first book; adventures that leave him more or less actually dead at several other points. All of this is set against a backdrop of larger threats both internal and external, including an alarming increase in the numbers of soulless, zombie-like “forged” roaming the land. These are subtly-plotted and complex books, but Hobbs keeps all the plates spinning effortlessly.
Where do you want to go next?
The key to the Elderlings books is their standalone nature: each trilogy tells a separate story within the Elderlings universe, and each book in a trilogy can stand on its own to a certain extent as well. There are, of course, connections and crossovers, and the trilogies contain plots that span all of the books, but each volume has an arc of its own. This makes Hobb one of the easier writers of dense epic fantasy to dive into.
After the original trilogy is where the road forks: should you go in order and tackle the Liveship Traders trilogy (Ship of Magic, The Mad Ship, and Ship of Destiny), or skip to The Tawny Man trilogy (Fool’s Errand, Golden Fool, and Fool’s Fate)? In a nutshell, it comes down to this: the Liveship Traders trilogy doesn’t involve Fitz. It’s set in the same universe with the same rules, and does have some crossover with the other trilogies, but it stands on its own, telling the story of hard times befalling the families that captain the liveships, sentient sailing vessels that were once integral to trade. War in the north (in Fitz’s territory) has disrupted their trade routes, causing some liveships to be used for the slave trade, a circumstance that provides the spark for another morally complex, richly developed tale.
If you want to stick tight to Fitz’s story, it may be best to hopscotch over The Liveship Traders books and read the Tawny Man trilogy. Trust us, finding out what happens next will be a priority once you finish Assassin’s Quest. You will miss some background and backstory by postponing the Liveship Traders books, but they will be easy enough to fill in when you do read them. The same holds true for two other related trilogies, The Rain Wild Chronicles and the Soldier Son trilogy, which also serve to expand the universe (and are similarly awesome reads).
So, here’s our recommended Robin Hobb reading order:
- The Farseer Trilogy
- The Tawny Man Trilogy
- The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy (when complete)
- Liveship Traders Trilogy
- The Rain Wild Chronicles
- Soldier Son Trilogy
Plenty of readers will disagree, and, of course, they’re not wrong. It stands to reason that Hobb intends you to read the books in the order she wrote them, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Our suggested order allows you to enjoy the epic story of FitzChivalry Farseer from beginning to end (once 2016 rolls around, anyway), and then go back and do a deeper dive into the universe and some of the other characters, which will only make the non-Fitz trilogies more fun to experience.
Oh, and one more thing…
Don’t Forget Megan Lindholm
First, a tangent: as we mentioned, Robin Hobb is a psuedonym; she published extensively under the name Megan Lindholm until 1992. Those novels, while not as successful or well-known as her work under the Hobb name, are every bit as good—especially the hard-to-find Wizard of the Pigeons., an urban fantasy set in Seattle that plays around with Authurian legend in fascinating ways. If you want to start with the author’s earliest writing, this is your jumping-on point.
Do you read in publication order or follow characters?