Thursday, 18 January 2018

The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince by Robin Hobb

review by Maryom

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll know I've been working my way (very slowly) through Robin Hobb's Farseer/Liveships/Rainwild series, and loving every page of the way. So, I was delighted to find this - The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince - in my Christmas stocking.

It's not actually part of the Farseer saga but a sort of prequel set long before the birth of Fitzchivalry Farseer.
It's often hinted in the story of Fitz that the Wit, the ability he has to communicate and even bond with animals, was once an accepted, even prized, skill but attitudes changed and it became something disreputable, despised, and evil; instead of having a gift, a Witted person was now seen as cursed.

Legend, as quoted in the Farseer books, blames this change of opinion on the actions and behaviour of Princess Caution, the Wilful Princess, and her son Prince Charger, the Piebald Prince. But in the two stories that make up this volume, Robin Hobb tells a different tale, through the words of Felicity, childhood friend and handmaiden to Princess Caution, then wet-nurse to her son, Charger. It's the story of a princess who contradicted her name at every possible chance, who gave up everything for love and her son, and that son, who, marked from birth, found his whole life a struggle - for acceptance, for power, and for love.

It reads as a folk tale - the sort you might know about King Arthur or his knights - but for me highlights one of the things I love about Hobb's work - the creation of a complete world with a complex history stretching back hundreds of years as a backdrop against which the adventures of Fitzchivalry and the Fool, or the Vestritt family take place. If you've read more fantasy you may know other examples but he only comparable world-building I can think of is Tolkein's Middle-earth.

There are a couple of things to note here - this is a short, novella length book (just over 150 pages) with a simpler plot than you may expect from Hobb's other full-length, 500+ page, and it probably doesn't work well as a stand-alone piece, so best seen as a 'curiosity' for Farseer fans. On the other hand, it's illustrated by Jackie Morris (who is responsible for many of Robin Hobb's covers) with horses and hounds along the margins, and the occasional half and full-page, giving the feel of an ancient manuscript reproduced for a modern reader.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Harper Collins (Harper Voyager)
Genre -
 Adult fantasy

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