Ossus Library Index
Fantasy Index


A novel by Robin Hobb
(2002, Spectra)

The Tawny Man, book 1

After fifteen years in retirement, the bastard heir to the throne is asked to return and search for the missing full-blood heir: the Prince.


-- First reading (paperback)
December 13th to 28th, 2006


Good, but not great. I was happy that the book picked up after the very long introduction.

Spoiler review:

The problem that I have, which is a problem that the author struggles to face, is that there is an entire trilogy of books that take place before this story does. I have not read those books. Doubtless, many people have read those books, and don't need more than a refresher of what happened earlier. Certainly they would like to know what occurred during the intervening time. Does any of it matter to the current story, though? The events of the previous trilogy do, and are mainly well-handled in their delivery. However, the events of the last fifteen years, when FitzChivalry, bastard son of the former King, undertook to learn of his magical talents, and wandered the world, are tangential. The time spent with the Old Blood, learning about his bond with his wolf Nighteyes, was definitely relevant. And we definitely needed to know that Fitz, now known as Tom Badgerlock, was ready to spend the rest of his days in that isolated cabin with his foster son Hap, but also yearned to see the world again, and quested with his magic for something he didn't know.

Of course, Fate brings to his doorstep the Fool, who was the Fool under the former King Verity, but who is now masquerading unrecognized as a Golden Lord, and whose background is fairly mysterious, and his former mentor (as an assassin), Chade. After a meandering two hundred pages and more of living a depressing and unfulfilling life at the cottage, the real story starts. Tom sends his son out to be apprenticed, and arrives at Buckkeep. All sorts of interesting things appear to have happened in the last trilogy, especially the fact that Tom's body was used magically to obtain an heir to the Farseer throne (the current Prince) when the King's body was lying in ruins.

The essence of the magic in this realm is that some people are born with the Wit, the ability to communicate with animals, and bond with like-minded animals. For Tom, it is his aging wolf. For the Prince, it is a cat. But Witted people are feared and hated in these days, hanged, cut into pieces and burned over running water to scatter the ashes. Yuck. The Skill is the ability to link with other human minds. Tom has both, and the Prince probably does, too. Chade, Lord Golden (the Fool) and Tom believe that the Prince was lured out of the castle in order to be manipulated somehow, that he was kidnapped. To add a deadline to the story, the Prince is to be betrothed to the daughter of the former enemies from the earlier trilogy. The history is weaved nicely throughout the tale, so that the Six Duchies are made into a familiar place.

Tom and Lord Golden go hunting for the Prince with the Queen's huntswoman, Laurel, to a place where they hunt with cats, rather than hounds, for Tom has a mindlink sometimes with the Prince, especially in dreams, and he recognizes the place. The tale is quite simple as they go after him, always one step beyond them, never quite getting close enough, until the main climax of the book. Well-versed in the art of espionage and sabotage, Tom chooses the place where they will take back the Prince, even though he doesn't want to be taken back. They succeed, and the description is well worth waiting for, as it is quick and decisive. They are overtaken later, though, and Tom is forced to abandon his friends and take the Prince through the ancient transport stones to another place.

The beach was a nice interlude, because it afforded a different location, where neither the Prince nor Tom were really in charge of the situation, and it allowed them to come to terms with each other (though the final acceptance would have to wait a bit) and the truth. The truth was that a woman had bonded to the Prince's cat, but was tortured and killed as a Witted woman. Instead of dying, she took refuge in the cat, forcing away its soul and making it more human than cat. The cat was given to the Prince as a gift, and he bonded with it. He was promised the love of the woman, who he didn't know was dead, and he naively accepted it, and left the fakery of the court life. He didn't know that the woman had planned to take over his body when he was ready, and push him aside like she did the cat. The truth struck home when she took over his body temporarily to attack Tom. The creature that chased them away was really strange, like something out of The Odyssey.

Returning to the kingdom of Buck, they manage to ransom the Prince and trick the kidnappers into thinking that Tom, whom they know is Witted, agrees that an openly Witted woman on the throne in the Prince's body would be a good thing. This is the weakest part of the book, really, because the plan is so transparent, and the author relies on a charm around Tom's neck to make the kidnappers easy-going. Chaos ensues, and they defeat the kidnappers. Nighteyes dies in the aftermath; events were just too stressful for his aging body. In a brief moment of control, the cat forces Tom to kill it, and the woman who inhabits its body, by attacking him full force. So both Tom and Prince Dutiful are left without their bond-mates as they return to Buckkeep castle, where the Prince meets his bride-to-be, and Tom agrees to teach him how to use the Wit and Skill.

The adventure was fun, once it got going. I even liked much of the opening chapters of the book, but found it went on doing the same thing -essentially nothing -for far too long. I also had to laugh at the names of the characters from the first trilogy, as well as Dutiful's name. They all describe their adult traits -did they get to pick their names when they were adults?

I liked the brief time spent in Buckkeep town, especially the strange and almost romantic relationship between Tom and Jinna, the hedge-witch. I thought her cats was funny, as it constantly talked to Tom the way I expect any cat would: "lap by the fire - you love me best - pet me, I'm coming through", and so on. The Fool is of a different race of people, long-lived and white skinned. I expect that we will find out what turned his skin golden soon enough. He had fun making a fool of himself, creating such a scandal at the Lady's house that they visited. He considers himself to be a White Prophet, and Fitz is his Catalyst, trying to shape the future toward a better one, rather than the evil that tries to take over the world as sort of an entropy.

I am happy that this first book in the trilogy is a more-or-less self-contained story, and that it has an actual conclusion. The common themes of educating the Prince will doubtlessly continue, but the search for the Prince and the unveiling of a plot to take his Witted body have been completed. I look forward to the next part in the story, and am glad that it won't have fifteen years of time to catch up on.


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