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A quick guide to Robin Hobb

If you enjoy fantasy, you’ve probably heard about Robin Hobb. Her fictional universe of the Realm of the Elderling spans 5 series and 2 short story collections. She’s revered worldwide for her subtle character writing and immersive world-building, but 18 books are a lot and you may be looking for a place to start.

If my hosting an 18-month-long challenge all about Robin Hobb wasn’t enough of a hint, here’s my admission to you: I love her books. I’ve read them all, and am currently (as of August 2022) re-reading them at the rhythm of one a month, for my #OneHobbAMonth challenge on Instagram.

So let me offer you a quick guide to Robin Hobb’s series and short stories, including (I hope) helpful notes on reading order.

All of Robin Hobb's novels and collections in a row on a shelf.

The Farseer Trilogy (L'Assassin royal, tomes 1 à 6 ou intégrale 1 et 2)

What is it?

This is where it all began, in the 1990s. This trilogy follows Fitz, the bastard son of the heir to the throne of the Six Duchies. It’s very much a coming-of-age story in a medieval fantasy setting with a very delicate, very subtle magic system that lurks in the background and doesn’t lend itself to epic fights but instead permeates Fitz’s life in happy and less happy ways.

  • Assassin's Apprentice

  • Royal Assassin

  • Assassin's Quest

Who is it best for and why start with this one?

If you enjoy slow, atmospheric books with little magic and important animal companions, this is the one for you. In addition to the fact that it was the first book published in this universe, it is where the whole story starts. All 5 series are connected, and some characters appear in more than one series, so it’s always nice to read the beginning first.

The Liveship Traders (Les Aventuriers de la Mer)

What is it?

With its (more or less) swashbuckling pirates, merchants dabbling in mysterious wares and very colourful characters, this is the most complex trilogy in terms of locations and number of characters. The scale is much larger than in the previous books, because we follow multiple perspectives in multiple locations and networks of alliances.

  • Ship of Magic

  • The Mad Ship

  • Ship of Destiny

Who is it best for and why start with this one?

If you prefer following several characters at once to keep things lively, love magical artefacts and are ready to go from hating a character to loving some of them, start here. You can always go back to Farseer afterwards.

The Tawny Man (L'Assassin royal, tomes 7 à 13 ou intégrale 3 et 4)

What is it?

In this trilogy, we go back to Fitz after several years of interlude (in which The Liveship Traders take place). This is the story of an older, disillusioned character with lots of heartache and dilemmas, but also a lot of light and wonderful character interaction.

  • Fool's Errand

  • The Golden Fool

  • Fool's Fate

Who is it best for and why start with this one?

Of course you can do whatever you want and start with this one (there are a few flashbacks to help understand why characters behave the way they do), but I strongly recommend to only read this after the Farseer Trilogy. It is particularly poignant to see how characters have evolved since the previous episode, and their dialogues are positively heart-breaking when you remember most of what has happened before.

So for once I’ll say, don’t start with this one.

The Rain Wilds Chronicles (Les Cités des Anciens)

What is it?

Dragons! This quartet is all about dragons, but perhaps not the ones you imagine. We follow multiple characters who gravitate towards the same two areas: the Rain Wilds and Bingtown, the merchant city at the mouth of the river. A large part of the cast is made of teenagers, with their own concerns and view points.

  • Dragon Keeper

  • Dragon Haven

  • City of Dragons

  • Blood of Dragons

Who is it best for and why start with this one?

If you prefer following several characters united in a quest, but don’t want the narrative to be scattered across the map, this is the one for you. Yes, you will meet a few guests from The Liveship Traders trilogy, but it won’t spoil their whole stories and you’ll still enjoy the surprise if you read The Rain Wild Chronicles first.

The Fitz and the Fool (L'Assassin royal : troisième cycle, tomes 1 à 6)

What is it?

Prepare your tissues. This trilogy closes the whole cycle and made my heart of stone cry at every episode. Here we are reunited with an older Fitz who seems to have finally reached the happy ending he longed for, however bittersweet. But of course, as Robin Hobb has shown throughout the 13 previous tomes, she won’t stop making his life miserable. This is a very melancholy series, with a lot less action but just as much personal stakes.

  • Fool's Assassin

  • Fool's Quest

  • Assassin's Fate

Who is it best for and why start with this one?

Robin Hobb did keep in mind that some readers would start with this trilogy, and so she scattered a few bits of information here and there to help such readers, but as it still follows Fitz, you really need to be familiar with both Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies to enjoy this one. Liveship Traders and Rain Wild Chronicles are optional, but their characters and locations are important at a turning point of Fitz and the Fool.

The Inheritance (L'Héritage et autres nouvelles)

What is it?

Signed under both her pen names, Robin Hobb and Megan Lindholm, this is a collection of short stories from the Six Duchies and beyond. There is a mix here of fantasy (on the Hobb side) and urban fantasy (on the Lindholm side).

Who is it best for and why start with this one?

This is a great introduction to the many facets of the author’s writing. You get the atmosphere and the character writing in short, bite-size format, with glimpses of several areas of importance for the series. I’d even go as far as recommending you start with this one, or at least you read it before Liveship Traders, because one story tells the settlement of the Rain Wilds and it brings a unique perspective on this location. But I read it afterwards and it was perfect as well.

The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince (Le Prince bâtard)

What is it?

This book brings together two short stories with a strong continuity from the first to the second one. It’s set in the Six Duchies before all the other events take place, and is told in the way of a minstrel.

Who is it best for and why start with this one?

Just like The Inheritance, this is a great place to start if you want a taste of Robin Hobb’s writing without committing to several hundred pages. Since it tells the origin of a folk tale that is often referred to in The Tawny Man trilogy, I’d recommend reading it prior to that particular trilogy, but it can also be savoured whenever you feel like it.

The book is set on a dark wooden table next to a bunch of small dried flowers, with a patterned cloth in the background.

I hope this guide is helpful and clear! If you have any question, please reach out to me either in a comment or on my Instagram page here. If you’d like to support my work, feel free to share this post on social media (don’t forget to tag me, I’m @mariebrunelm on both Twitter and Instagram), and you can buy me a cup of tea on my Ko-fi page here.

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