The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince by Robin Hobb
Robin Hobb’s FARSEER series is one of my all-time favorite fantasy epics. It’s about FitzChivalry Farseer, the bastard son of a dead prince. Fitz is a sad case, not only because his father’s dead and he’s illegitimate, but perhaps mostly because he has the Wit — an ancient magic that lets him communicate with and bond to animals. The citizens of the Six Duchies fear the Wit and kill those who practice it. But that wasn’t always the case…
Now, in Robin Hobb’s most recent novella, The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince, we learn why the people hate what they call “beastmagic.” This is the story of a young (“willful”) Farseer princess who fell in love with a Witted stablemaster. The story is told by Felicity, whose mother had been Princess Caution’s nursemaid and who had strategically maneuvered Felicity into the position of companion to the princess. When Caution gives birth to the stablemaster’s Witted illegitimate child — a boy who becomes known as the Piebald Prince — Felicity raises him and tells us his story, too.
So why did the Wit become a crime in the Six Duchies? In The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince, you’ll learn that it has to do with a scandal involving the ugly illegitimate prince, a thwarted would-be-king, a fickle woman, a love triangle, and a couple of murders.
The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince has everything I expect from Robin Hobb — clear and succinct (yet lovely) prose, interesting well-developed characters (some to love and some to hate), realistic dialogue, beautiful romance, glorious tragedy, and a touch of ironic humor.
If you’re a fan of Robin Hobb’s fantasy, you don’t want to miss The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince because it fills in some important backstory on the Farseer family and provides a lot of context to FitzChivalry’s bittersweet tale. And if you haven’t read Robin Hobb’s work before, you’ve really been missing out. The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince is the perfect way to correct that problem — it’s a great introduction to the FARSEER saga. After you read it, you’ll be itching to read Assassin’s Apprentice.
I was particularly taken by the style of the prose in this short and charming book: formal and simultaneously familiar, as one would expect from a medieval narrator who is low-born but well-educated. Definitely worth the time of any Robin Hobb fan.
THE FARSEER SAGA — (1995-2013) Words Like Coins is a short e-story published in 2012. The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince is a related prequel novella published in 2013. Publisher: Young Fitz is the bastard son of the noble Prince Chivalry, raised in the shadow of the royal court by his father’s gruff stableman. He is treated like an outcast by all the royalty except the devious King Shrewd, who has him secretly tutored in the arts of the assassin. For in Fitz’s blood runs the magic Skill — and the darker knowledge of a child raised with the stable hounds and rejected by his family. As barbarous raiders ravage the coasts, Fitz is growing to manhood. Soon he will face his first dangerous, soul-shattering mission. And though some regard him as a threat to the throne, he may just be the key to the survival of the kingdom.
LIVESHIP TRADERS –(1998-2000) Bingtown is a hub of exotic trade and home to a merchant nobility famed for its liveships — rare vessels carved from wizardwood, which ripens magically into sentient awareness. The fortunes of one of Bingtown’s oldest families rest on the newly awakened liveship Vivacia. For Althea Vestrit, the ship is her rightful legacy unjustly denied her — a legacy she will risk anything to reclaim. For Althea’s young nephew Wintrow, wrenched from his religious studies and forced to serve aboard ship, Vivacia is a life sentence. But the fate of the Vestrit family — and the ship — may ultimately lie in the hands of an outsider. The ruthless pirate Kennit seeks a way to seize power over all the denizens of the Pirate Isles… and the first step of his plan requires him to capture his own liveship and bend it to his will…
TAWNY MAN — (2001-2003) For fifteen years FitzChivalry Farseer has lived in self-imposed exile, assumed to be dead by almost all who once cared about him. But that is about to change when destiny seeks him once again. Prince Dutiful, the young heir to the Farseer throne, has vanished and FitzChivalry, possessed of magical skills both royal and profane, is the only one who can retrieve him in time for his betrothal ceremony — thus sparing the Six Duchies profound political embarrassment… or worse. But even Fitz does not suspect the web of treachery that awaits him or how his loyalties to his Queen, his partner, and those who share his magic will be tested to The breaking point.
THE RAIN WILDS CHRONICLES — (2010-2012) Publisher: Guided by the great blue dragon Tintaglia, they came from the sea: a Tangle of serpents fighting their way up the Rain Wilds River, the first to make the perilous journey to the cocooning grounds in generations. Many have died along the way. With its acid waters and impenetrable forest, it is a hard place for any to survive. People are changed by the Rain Wilds, subtly or otherwise. One such is Thymara. Born with black claws and other aberrations, she should have been exposed at birth. But her father saved her and her mother has never forgiven him. Like everyone else, Thymara is fascinated by the return of dragons: it is as if they symbolise the return of hope to their war-torn world. Leftrin, captain of the liveship Tarman, also has an interest in the hatching; as does Bingtown newlywed, Alise Finbok, who has made it her life’s work to study all there is to know of dragons. But the creatures which emerge from the cocoons are a travesty of the powerful, shining dragons of old. Stunted and deformed, they cannot fly; some seem witless and bestial. Soon, they become a danger and a burden to the Rain Wilders: something must be done. The dragons claim an ancestral memory of a fabled Elderling city far upriver: perhaps there the dragons will find their true home. But Kelsingra appears on no maps and they cannot get there on their own: a band of dragon keepers, hunters and chroniclers must attend them. To be a dragon keeper is a dangerous job: their charges are vicious and unpredictable, and there are many unknown perils on the journey to a city which may not even exist…
FITZ AND THE FOOL — (2014- ) Publisher: FitzChivalry — royal bastard and former king’s assassin — has left his life of intrigue behind. As far as the rest of the world knows, FitzChivalry Farseer is dead and buried. Masquerading as Tom Badgerlock, Fitz is now married to his childhood sweetheart, Molly, and leading the quiet life of a country squire. Though Fitz is haunted by the disappearance of the Fool, who did so much to shape Fitz into the man he has become, such private hurts are put aside in the business of daily life, at least until the appearance of menacing, pale-skinned strangers casts a sinister shadow over Fitz’s past… and his future. Now, to protect his new life, the former assassin must once again take up his old one….
I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anything by Hobbs. This certainly sounds like a good place to start. You had me hooked with “Princess Caution.”
Well if you like that, there’s plenty more of it in her Farseer books. Hobb is one of my favorites.