Cover art by Jon Foster
THE WILFUL PRINCESS AND THE PIEBALD PRINCE
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Published: 28 February 2013
On the cover:
One of the darkest legends in the Realm of the Elderlings recounts the tale of the so-called Piebald Prince, a Witted pretender to the throne unseated by the actions of brave nobles so that the Farseer line could continue untainted. Now the truth behind the story is revealed through the account of Felicity, a low-born companion of the Princess Caution at Buckkeep.
With Felicity by her side, Caution grows into a headstrong Queen-in-Waiting. But when Caution gives birth to a bastard son who shares the piebald markings of his father’s horse, Felicity is the one who raises him. And as the prince comes to power, political intrigue sparks dangerous whispers about the Wit that will change the kingdom forever…
This is a short book consisting of a story in two parts. As the flap copy says, it's the story of one of the monumental events in the history (,as seen from the time of Hobb's other stories set in The Realm of the Elderlings,) of the Six Duchies. It's about a short period that has major repercussions for later events, especially FitzChivalry's experiences in The Farseer Trilogy is very much effected by what is told here. So, as such this isn't truly a standalone. It is certainly possible to read this without any knowledge of what has been previously published, but this is first and foremost a complimentary story for those who want to know more about the world Hobb has created.
Felicity's story is both her very personal story and a much larger story about the kings and queens of Buckkeep and the politics of ruling. These two story strands are intertwined, and it is Felicity's closeness to events that makes her their chronicler.
The personal story is in essence about how someone of low birth can find a place in the upper reaches of the court, and that in itself is interesting enough to warrant a telling. There's some chilling lengths that are gone to to keep that place, and it does sometimes come across as extremely cynical actions. But that is really what gives it power, Hobb shows how desperate someone can get to stay close to the powerful. And also how extreme your actions can become when you are trying to safeguard yourself and your family.
There's also another aspect to the personal story, one that has more to do with feelings and even love. Especially in the first part of the book we see how the closeness of two people of different stations is a fragile thing that can be destroyed by the small events that are a part of so many people's life.
On the big scale side of the story we finally get to see the historical events we have previously only heard about in Hobb's previous work, the story of the Piebald Prince and how he came to be.
This is largely a story of courtly politics, something that on the surface may not sound very interesting or engaging, but it is a really fascinating tale. There's not only politics involved, love is a major part of what is going on in both parts of the book. This humanises the dry politics to a great degree, making the actions of the participants much more relatable and understandable. It shortens the distance from the reader to the greater geopolitical events that are more of a result of what happens than their cause.
Hobb offers up some surprising twists and turns, and although you may be familiar with what the ultimate results of this came to be in later years (, in The Farseer Trilogy,) seeing where this story goes is still very much a guessing game.
I mentioned above that the personal and the political are intertwined in this book, and that is something Hobb does very well. There's never a feeling that one suffers because of the other, and the two strands compliments each other very well. It becomes a personal chronicle of momentous events that puts you right in the middle of what is happening, and Hobb manages to make you feel like you are experiencing it as much as Felicity did. It's really a great way to tell of historical events, and Hobb does it expertly here.
The main characters are also very well drawn. Apart from Felicity we get little insight into their thought processes, but we still understand them and can empathise with them. (At least to the degree that Felicity can.) We don't get close to all the players in the story, but that isn't something I felt was missing from the story, it's more the nature of it. And that is something I really liked, this is an intimate telling of a large story and that is its great strength.
I can only conclude that this is another great story from Hobb. It carries her trademark style, and as a fan of that style it was a great read for me, and I'm sure other Hobb fans will feel the same way. This is really an essential complementary tale for those who want to know and understand more about Hobb's world, and it should be in every Hobb fan's collection
More Robin Hobb reviews can be found here.
LINKS: Robin Hobb Subterranean Press