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.