The Realm of the Elderlings is the universe in which the majority of Robin Hobb's work takes place. It is comprised of the Farseer, Liveship Traders and Tawny Man trilogies, the Rain Wilds Chronicles quartet and the upcoming Fitz and the Fool trilogy. There are also the related stories Homecoming, The Inheritance, Words Like Coins, Blue Boots and Cat's Meat.
Burn the Witch!: Witted people who are caught are hanged over water and burned; superstition holds that this is done because otherwise their spirit might escape or even allow them to come back to life. It's considered a horribly evil thing to do, but the Wit does allow this to happen under very specific circumstances.
The Dragons Come Back: All the series except The Farseer Trilogy revolve to a greater or lesser extent around the return of dragons and their Elderling servants.
Fantastic Racism: The persecution of Old Blood in people known as the Witted, who are born more highly attuned to life and bond with an animal companion. In the Six Duchies, they are vilified as little more than beasts themselves and tend to get lynched if discovered.
Our Dragons Are Different: Dragons are intelligent, can fly, and they breath acid as a weapon. They also have a complex life cycle. They begin as Sea Serpents, go upriver to cocoon themselves inland, and emerge as dragons. The disruption of this cycle creates the current state of the world, with the dragons all but gone and humanity's knowledge of the magics of the past nearly lost.
Sorceror King: The Farseer dynasty are psychically gifted with a variety of powers. Whether they fall here or under Sorcerous Overlord depends on the monarch: Kings Shrewd and Verity are definite examples of The Good King, while Regal is a prejudiced asshole and part of the first trilogy's Big Bad Ensemble.
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The Farseer Trilogy
The first trilogy follows the story of the royal bastard of Prince Chivalry, Fitz. As a young boy he is brought to the heart of the Six Duchies, Buckkeep, and to its court, where most of the story takes place. As a bastard, Fitz is trained in the only real way he can serve his country: as an assassin. He aids the King and his King-in-Waiting in protecting the kingdom both from internal threats and an external threat: the Outislander pirates, the Red-Ship Raiders.
The books in this series are:
Tropes found in The Farseer Trilogy:
Abusive Parents: Molly's father. Molly herself becomes like this later, until someone intervenes.
And I Must Scream: Averted since it's not presented as a particularly horrible fate.The Heroic Sacrifice Skill coteries tend to end up making, along with their skill coteries. Eventually, the coteries are drawn to the Dragon quarry, where they'll carve a new dragon and join with it, to sleep until the Kingdom needs them.
What does seem more like this trope is the carving of Girl-on-a-Dragon; the leader of that coterie thought to preserve herself, carving a human body astride the coterie's dragon and attempting to fill only the body with her mind. Her vanity and reluctance to throw herself fully to the dragon resulted in it not fully awakening, leaving it lifeless and half-trapped in stone.
Angst: Fitz tends towards this mindset, sometimes dropping into Wangst territory. Given what happens to him, though, it's understandable. It's also supposedly a side effect of elfbark, which he starts abusing partway through the trilogy; elfbark is later shown to cause mood swings.
Annoying Arrows: Averted. Fitz gets hit with one and only his badassery and Determinatorness and Nighteyes allow him to keep going. It nearly kills him and it takes weeks for him to recover.
Bittersweet Ending: To put it mildly. The Six Duchies is safe, but the woman Fitz loves has married a man he cares about too deeply to take her from, everybody thinks he's dead, he's been revealed as Witted so if he returns he's liable to be lynched, and he has no home to call his own.
Blood Sport: Regal's gladiator ring, a twisted version of the King's Justice.
Cain and Abel: Regal's feud with Chivalry and Verity. His mother hammered it into him that he was "better" than his half-brothers because she was higher-born than Chivalry and Verity's mother, and he never forgot it.
Chekhov's Gun: On his way to assassinate Prince Regal, Fitz encounters the half-mad bond companion of a Witted man Regal had tortured to death. The insane little ferret is bent on killing Regal, as well, intending on slashing open his throat and drinking his blood, and Fitz wishes him well, as one assassin to another. In the book's epilogue, Regal is described as having died in his bed in a way that implies Small Ferret got to him in the end, after all.
Deadly Decadent Court: Usually not decadent, but the first books are called Royal Assassin and Assassin's Apprentice for a reason.
Did Not Get the Girl: An almost Diabolus ex Machina-level series of coincidences causes this to happen to Fitz. Until the end of the Tawny Man trilogy, that is. At least part of it was his own fault.
Evil Is Petty. Zigzagged with Regal. Fitz and the reader spend most of the trilogy assuming that Regal entirely fits this trope, and he often does, but it also turns out that Regal wrongly believed that Shrewd had his mother assassinated, which is not exactly a petty motivation.
Foregone Conclusion: Some of the notes that start each chapter reveal things to happen later in the future, but keep it vague enough to keep the story's tension. For example, in one of the first chapters Fitz talks about his shaking hands and fits which comes from his poisoning and his near-death at the end of Assassin's Apprentice.
The Greatest Story Never Told: Fitz plays the role of the perfect backstage man: he sets things into motion, but never receives any recognition for his actions. Of course, if people knew, his job as an assassin wouldn't nearly be as effective.
Heir Club for Men: Subverted. The line of succession moves to the next heir, regardless of gender. The current generation of Farseer royalty is made up completely of Mr. Fanservice, but female rulers are just as common as male ones.
Heroes Prefer Swords: Averted. Fitz usually uses a sword, but he actually prefers an axe, and his teachers comment occasionally that he just doesn't have the talent to be a particularly good swordsman.
Heel-Face Brainwashing: Regal's penultimate fate. Fitz blasts his mind with the compulsion of absolute loyalty to Kettricken, and he spends a few weeks being nice and helping undo the clusterfuck he'd made out of the Six Duchies before getting his throat torn out in the middle of the night by the crazed companion of one of the Witted he'd had killed.
Idiot Ball: The amount of trust nearly everyone including Kettricken, who knows for a fact that Regal ordered her brother's death in the end of the first book extends towards Regal is pretty amazing.
I'd Tell You, but Then I'd Have to Kill You: Invoked in Assassin's Apprenticewhere Regal seems to not mind telling everyone in his service that Fitz is an assassin. They treat Fitz like dirt, but he notes that he'd have to kill them afterwards to stay an effective assassin.
I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Fitz, particularly in "Assassin's Quest." After spending most of the book planning on going home to Molly to raise their child once he's done saving the kingdom, he winds up deciding to never seek her out, as he gets a Skill vision showing her falling in love with Burrich. It's a somewhat unusual example; Fitz makes this decision as much out of respect for Burrich as anything else, because he knows that whether he reclaimed Molly or not, just the knowledge that he was still alive would leave Burrich a broken man after he'd "stolen" Molly for himself.
Jedi Mind Trick: The Skill can work like this. It's often so subtle that a person can be called to go to a location without their being aware that they were called in the first place; or someone can be made to feel something that they wouldn't naturally feel, like fear.
Kangaroo Court: Fitz is sentenced to death for killing King Shrewd, Justin and Serene in a trial in which he's not even present.
It's established that magic should be more common than it is, and more impressive, but Galen suppressed and badly mishandled all the coolest powers of The Skill while those with The Wit are actively persecuted.
The series is really more of an after the end of magic scenario since the rise of magic seems to be dovetail with the return of the dragons. The dragons themselves, and the high fantasy society that developed with them, were eliminated in an earlier unexplained catastrophe.
Meaningful Name: Babies born in noble families are usually named after a virtue, in belief child assimilates said virtue as a crucial part of his/hers personality. Thus we have Lords Chivalry, Verity, Bright, Shrewd, Dutiful and Ladies Patience, Constance, Faith, Celerity and Grace, among others.
First when he was given into the care of his father's family; he loses the name given him by his mountain mother, which he doesn't remember until the end of the third trilogy and is given the name Fitz Chivalry by his uncle Verity.
Fitz has one with all of his Bond Creatures, like Nosy and the terrier Patience gave him.
Then there's Fitz, Nighteyes and the Fool.
Mind Rape: Part of what the Skill can do to someone, forcing pain, attacking their mind, or forcing compulsions onto someone. It's even possible to fry someone's mind entirely with a Skill-blast, though the feedback is pretty nasty when that happens.
Mood Whiplash: One moment, under the influence of blue smoke, Fitz and Rurisk are giggling about Regal's failed assassination attempt. Until it ends up not being such a failure.
Galen's method of teaching his coterie, which broke their spirits and made them incredibly loyal to him even after his death. Fitz theorizes that Galen didn't so much as take students with little talent and made them into reliable Skill-users, but rather took great Skill-users and made them adequate tools.
New Powers as the Plot Demands: Fitz ends up doing some amazing things with the Skill once he's under pressure or asleep. Much of this is the result of mental blocks he's built up (or had inflicted upon him) against the Skill that make it difficult for him to consciously control it; his natural Skill strength is pretty phenomenal when he actually can get to it.
Ninja Maid: Lacey, the "best student Hod ever taught." Looks like a doddering little lady just like Patience, but the first time Fitz gets too uppity around Patience, Lacey has a knitting needle against his throat before he can blink.
Not-So-Harmless Villain: Queen Desire, Regal's mother. While she was alive, she was considered half-mad even when she wasn't doped out of her mind, and way too deranged and unstable to act on any of the treasonous things she said about destroying the Six Duchies. She convinced Regal to do it in her stead and taught him how before she died, and Regal wound up killing his way into the throne and nearly drove the Six Duchies to pieces..
Our Dragons Are Different: the Myth Arc's first version of dragons are sculptures made of magical stone and imbued with the memories of Skill coteries; additionally, true dragons are given a twist in that they have a butterfly-esque life cycle in which sea serpents spin cocoons and then hatch as dragons.
Professional Killer: Fitz, of course, and Chade. Somewhere between the "assassin" and "hitman" subtypes, as they are assassins in name and double as spies, working undercover, meaning they have some status, but the actual killing is considered "dirty work", carried out by bastard children to the princes and kings of the royal family. And should you not longer be under the protection of the king ...
Royals Who Actually Do Something: Pretty much everyone, most obviously the Mountain Kingdom. Inverted with Regal, who plots and schemes to power but thinks he has a right to be a layabout, drug addicted Jerk Ass.
Rite of Passage: Fitz hints at having one of these to mark passage into manhood. It's one of the few things he doesn't expound upon, as its not considered seemly to discuss in mixed company.
Secret Test of Character: Fitz gets one as part of his assassin training early on. Chade instructs him to steal something of King Shrewd's as a prank, then gets angry with him when he balks; in reality, they're testing him to see if his loyalty to Chade, one of the only mentors he's ever known, is strong enough to override his loyalty to Shrewd. Fitz passes via Take a Third Option, at which point Chade admits the entire thing was Shrewd's idea. He then slams the silver fruit knife he "stole" (with Shrewd watching every move) into Chade's mantel as a message not to do that to him again, where it stays for the rest of the series.
It should be mentioned that this was probably a major pass/fail exam on Fitz's part; Shrewd was testing his loyalty, and there's little question that Fitz would not have survived if he'd lost Shrewd's trust.
Seers: Apart from the white prophets, there's also the first Farseer who was named thus because he could see the future.
Shoot the Dog: Subverted, at least in the first book; Burrich just gave the dog away. However, the sharp pain of the bond being broken forcibly by Burrich's Wit led Fitz to believe that he'd killed the dog, and to hate and fear Burrich for it for years.
Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The end reveals that the Red Ship Raiders only attacked to get revenge for the dragons the Six Duchies unleashed on them many years ago, which created the first Forged. So now it only seems that Verity's final act defending his kingdom has only continued the cycle.
Slut Shaming: Not too bad, but the threats to Molly begin with being forced out of the castle in shame. Fitz's reputation is also likely to suffer, though not as much. Minstrels are explicitly free from the shame normally attaching to sluttly liaisons.
Stern Teacher: Burrich. Incredibly gruff and almost universally loved.
Averted with Chade, who sometimes falls under the Trickster Mentor, but is terribly laid back considering how serious his job is.
Take a Third Option: Fitz passes his Secret Test of Character this way. Rather than steal something from Shrewd in order to pass one of Chade's tasks, he goes to meet with Shrewd, then picks up and hides a fruit knife with Shrewd watching, without saying a word, then slams it into Chade's mantle the next time they meet.
Theme Naming: Traditionally, noble-born (especially of the royal line) are named for traits and virtues, with the folklore claiming that they would grow to exhibit the traits for which they were named. Commoners tend to have simple names denoting a profession.
The Theme Naming does pan out, from what we see. Shrewd is a cunning old bastard, Verity is honest and blunt-spoken, Chivalry is said to have edged into Honor Before Reason territory. Regal lives up to his name as well, considering its connotations do fit with the power and wealth that are his entire pursuit in life.
Applied Phlebotinum: Wizardwood's magical properties allow it to be used as ships, contraception, good-luck charms, etcetera. Dragon cocoon fiber is potent stuff.
Because You Can Cope: Ephron's implied rationale for leaving Vivacia to Keffria is that Althea was competent enough to make it on her own, whereas Keffria and her children were dependent on Kyle, and Ephron didn't trust Kyle's ability to provide for them without Vivacia. This goes horribly, horribly wrong.
Best Her to Bed Her: Somewhat implied with Malta Vestrit, with her subconscious view of herself and Reyn showing an ancient kidnapping marriage.
Bifauxnen: Althea as Athel is more than a little attractive to women, including Jek.
Break the Cutie: Almost as soon as Vivacia quickens—becomes sentient, in other words—she is subjected to a family dispute and put to work as a slave ship. Since liveships are closely bonded to the family and feel everything that goes on within their decks, this equates to her suffering horribly as soon as she's born.
Wintrow starts as a naive, idealistic boy training for the priesthood. After being broken by the brutality his father subjects and exposes him to, he realizes how awful things can be in the world. He winds up becoming quite a Badass in the cause of doing what he thinks is right.
Malta is a spoiled brat who enjoys attention and potentially ruining her reputation as far as Bingtown standards for chastity go, all set to inherit her father's attitude. A miserable trip through the jungle with the Satrap and an encounter with a dragon wises her up considerably.
Continuity Nod: when Amber resculpts the ship Paragon's visage in order to restore its eyes, the end result is heavily implied to be Fitz the assassin. In The Tawny Man, this turns out to have been a Chekhov's Boomerang.
Corrupt Church: The church of Sa in Jamailla City has turned corrupt, and now collaborates with the slave traders.
Four Lines, All Waiting: The story starts with Three Lines Some Waiting as it switches between Althea, Kennit, and Wintrow. As the situation in Bingtown becomes tense and characters from Jamilla are brought in, more points-of-view are added and it all becomes quite complicated.
Freudian Excuse: Kennit's being held prisoner and raped as a child and, more dramatically, becoming a sociopath due to investing his traumatic memories in Paragon. Note that putting memories into wizardwood or skill stone, as with the stone dragons, is shown to remove the emotional attachment the person has to those memories throughout the series. While it might come off as strange, it is consistent with how that type of magic works in the series.
Half-Identical Twins: An odd variation where Althea and Wintrow are described as almost identical, although they're aunt and nephew
Idiot Ball: Almost all of the problems in the first book are directly caused by Ronica's decision to give the family liveship not to her nice but unorthodox daughter Althea, but to the harsh and brutal husband of her other daughter, Kyle. Within the first few chapters, Kyle alienates his wife, disrupts the life of his son, chases Althea out of the family, supports his daughter becoming a manipulative vixen, kicks out most of the ship's crew, and turns the newly awakened family ship to slave trading.
Jerk With A Heartof Jerk: Satrap Cosgo is made more prudent and pragmatic by his ordeals, but every time you think he's learned something about empathy or humility as well, he turns out to be as big of a Jerk Ass as ever. His advisers assure Malta that he's much improved from his earlier ways at the end, but she has to take their word for it.
Kennit, King of the Pirate Isles, strives for this his entire career, and succeeds in spite of himself. His legacy passes to Etta and Wintrow.
Kennit is also the protege of another pirate who would have been king. His legend was much darker.
Malta and Reyn, as the first of the new Elderlings, become movers and shakers across nations by virtue of that fact. Also, wildly popular at parties.
Karma Houdini: Kennit never really gets any punishment for raping Althea, killing people, manipulating everyone and trying to make Paragon kill himself. True, Kennit does die, but he dies a martyr with the love and adoration of many, including Vivacia, whose bond with Althea was the whole motivation for the latter's story. Similarly, Serilla never receives any justice after the Satrap had her raped out of spite.
Love Triangle: Three of them, each with one girl and two guys: Althea, Brashen and Grag; Malta, Cerwin and Reyn; Etta, Kennit and Wintrow.
Machiavelli Was Wrong: Just ask Vivacia which captain she preferred and which one was the most successful.
Not So Different: Althea knows she and Malta are(n't). Neither are Kennit and Wintrow, as it turns out.
Our Dragons Are Different: Variant two. Dragons are arrogant, imperious, and powerfully magical. They are also rare; none have been seen in ages. This is because "wizardwood" is actually the material that forms their cocoons. Building wizardwood ships killed many dragon offspring.
Cosgo allows the crew of the Chalcedan ship he's travelling on to gang-rape his adviser Serilla. She goes from being a competent Beleagured Bureaucrat to hostile, frightened, and unable to properly judge situations due to the trauma.
Althea is drugged and raped by Kennit near the very end of the trilogy.
This is also Kennit's backstory. As a child, he was subjected to brutal sexual abuse by his pirate captain and expelled the emotional trauma into Paragon, turning himself into a sociopath.
Sliding Scale of Gender Inequality: Bingtown used to be more egalitarian; Althea's great-grandmother was Vivacia's original captain, for example. As the society has grown more prosperous, it has adopted the Chalcedan norm of "keeping women idle" to show off one's prosperity, to the point where Althea has to pose as a man to get any work on a ship.
Slut Shaming: The tenor of Bingtown society is more conservative than Six Duchies, and the shaming women face is more severe. Althea in particular gets a lot of it, including from her own sister in one important incident from their youth. Jek, who actually is implied to be promiscuous, is notably immune to being shamed because of her forceful personality.
The Stoic: Wintrow tries hard to make himself this in the face of the human evil he has to witness and endure.
Troubled, but Cute: Brashen was disinherited by his family for being a wastrel. He had a terrible time trying to support himself in the world until Ephron Vestrit gave him a chance to make something of himself.
The Unfavorite: Several. Althea feels like this when her family pressures to be more conventional and her father leaves Vivacia to Kyle. Kyle actively favors Malta while he verbally and emotionally abuses Wintrow. Brashen was disinherited, although he did genuinely embarrass his family.
Death of the Hypotenuse: Burrich. With three available ways to save the badly injured (Wit, Skill, dragons) only one is attempted and dismissed as too difficult. When it is clear that the Wit can also heal like the Skill, and indeed even raise the dead, it is conveniently revealed that Burrich is dead and his body has been dumped in the sea. Fitz doesn't mourn, and is free to pursue Molly once more.
The Wits ability to rise the dead was revealed after Burrichs body was given a sea burial and the two ships were overcrowded so keeping the body was out of the question.
The fact that the Wit can resurrect the dead is hinted at earlier, when Burrich uses it to resurrect Fitz. Fitz uses it to get the Fool back, and only after that does he realize that it could be used to save Burrich. By then it is conveniently too late to heal him, and the body is removed from the equation to ensure that no resurrection is possible despite the fact that others with the Wit are on the ships Burrich sailed off on. Who Fitz could have gotten in touch with via the Skill and the coterie.
Disability Superpower: Thick, who combines the mind of a child with enough power in the Skill magic that he may be the most powerful Skill-user in the series.
Earn Your Happy Ending: Fitz loses a surprising number of dear and personal friends and opportunities, but in the end, finds a life that he can be content with.
Epileptic Trees: In-universe, they're planted and kept by Prince Dutiful, who's left to draw his own conclusions rather than given the truth from the start. No wonder he comes up with explanations such as Tom Badgerlock being Chade's and Lady Thyme's son.
Evil Counterpart: the Pale Woman to the Fool. She's even described as looking almost exactly like a female version of him, except with perfectly white skin to contrast with the steady darkening of the Fool's skin.
Generation Xerox: Frequently lampshaded.The biggest example is Dutiful, who is biologically Fitz's son and who takes after Chivalry a bit more than Verity.
Halfway Plot Switch: The trilogy starts out with a book about prince Dutiful's abduction by the Piebalds, with his upcoming betrothal to an Outislander princess a background detail. The Outislands plotline becomes more prominent in the second book and completely makes up the third book, while the Piebald storyline becomes less prominent and is ultimately resolved off-page in the third book.
Hollywood Autism: Rather well done with Thick. Most people consider Thick to be nothing more than a half-wit. Thanks to the Skill, Fitz recognizes that Thick isn't actually stupid; he just devotes his attention to things most people find inconsequential.
Living Legend: The Witted Bastard is widely suspected to be alive, he has become the symbol for two political movements within the secret, witted communities. And now he's returned to court as a mysterious adviser to the Queen and to Prince Dutiful.
Mistaken for Gay: Fitz by almost everyone, including his family and ex-lover. Or not, because several of these think that The Fool is a girl.
The Rainman: Subverted. Thick's Power Incontinence makes him a sheer terror to train until the end of the last book, and because of his childish mind, when he's uncomfortable or upset he can't help but radiate those feelings outward. It's enough to make people who aren't even sensitive to the Skill share his seasickness.
Fitz is sort of retired at the start of Fool's Errand, having vanished after the end of the Red Ship War fifteen years ago. The end of the first trilogy heavily reinforces this, as it ambiguously paints Fitz as very old and well past his prime at the time of this trilogy (he is in fact in his early thirties). This is explained in Fool's Fate: Fitz poured so much of himself into Girl-on-a-Dragon that he wasn't really alive afterwards.
Romancing the Widow: Happens in an oddly circular fashion with Molly. She was never married to Fitz originally, but her relationship with Burrich resulted from him taking care of her and her child in the wake of Fitz's apparent death, and then Fitz is faced with the task of wooing her all over again after she has mourned Burrich's death.
Samus Is a Girl: the Fool. Or perhaps not. The books are never entirely clear on the Fool's gender. He comes from a culture where gender isn't considered a big deal, and finds Starling's curiosity hilarious.
Scry vs. Scry: Hinted at in the first trilogy; made much more obvious. The entire plot of the books revolves around the Fool and the Pale Woman's opposing views of what the future should be like and their attempts to enforce their version.
Ship Tease /Ship Sinking: At the end of the third book, Fitz refers to the Fool as his "dream" and was about to choose him over Molly, but then the Fool goes and pulls an I Want My Beloved to Be Happy and goes as far as to remove the silver fingerprints he left on Fitz's wrist. Many fans were extremely disappointed.
Slut Shaming: People heap shame on Fitz and Lord Golden for their perceived promiscuities. Svanja's father is distraught over what she and Hap are doing, and starts a fight with Fitz over it (though in that case the real issue, unbeknownst to Fitz and Hap at first, is that Svanja is actually cheating with Hap on another suitor whom her father prefers.).
The Unreveal: the Fool's gender. Possibly to show that Fitz has come to accept the Fool's own view that it isn't important.
What Happened to the Mouse?: Purposefully invoked and then Averted. through both series, it's implied we'll never find out the exact circumstances around Chivalry's death. In a chapter heading, it outright says his Wicked Stepmother probably had him killed to grease Regal's ascent to the throne.
Duology Creep: First being planned out as one book, the story grew so long that it was released as two books. And then the sequel grew into two books as well.
Fantastic Racism: The Rain Wilders, who already grow dragonish physical traits as they get older, want anyone born with these defects abandoned at birth. Those who survive are forbidden to breed and are generally treated like crap.
Heroes Want Redheads: averted at first when nobody wants Alise except the guy looking for a beard, played straight later.
I Know Your True Name: According to Sintara, no dragon could lie to someone who demanded the truth with her true name or used it properly when asking a question. Nor could a dragon break an agreement if she entered into it under her true name.
Wings Do Nothing: Most of the dragons don't have well-developed enough wings to fly, though they discover that a good diet and practicing flying helps a lot. Thymara's wings qualify as this until the very end of the series, when she is able to put them to use for the very first time.