2 days- Women in the Farseer series


I am reading the Fool’s Quest, latest in the Farseer series of books by Robin Hobb. I have skipped about in reading it, and am currently at about 57%. But there are going to be very minor spoilers ahead. About both the book and the series. It is unlikely that these spoilers will decrease anyone’s enjoyment in the book, I at least only got interested in reading this book when a Goodreads review spoiled a big secret for me. A secret which, it turns out, is only unknown to the characters, we the readers know it almost from the page 1.

So, disclaimer done, let me talk about the book.

First of all, I am glad Molly is dead and we do not have to spend much time with her. I say much because Fitz is still mooning over her everytime he sees Nettle. I never liked Molly. I don’t think anyone ever liked Molly. It took a NYT article on assortive mating I read yesterday to make me realize why. Assortive mating is so much a part of the modern fairytale that a traditional romance, in which a “good-hearted” but stupid girl snags a intelligent and powerful man (who is incidentally a prince) is repugnant to most of us. We accept Miles Vorkosigan’s marriage to Ekaterin (this is not a spoiler. The cover picture tells us this much) because even though  Ekaterin is different from Miles’ other lovers, she is never boring. She might be a princess he rescues out of the clutches of a boring husband, But she quickly proves her worth by not requiring saving in a combat situation. Anyways, back to the character we are discussing. Molly is  boring. And Robin Hobb knows that, and thankfully keeps her out of all the later novels.

But that does not mean this book has any dearth of female characters. Unlike the first book, where we had the scheming Desire, stupid Molly and batty Patience, here there are competent, smart women are everywhere. Farseer princesses are suddenly all over the place. Farseer queens continue to be independent minded and in charge of plot movement. Even a boy turns into a girl on closer inspection. There are so many women, this book has some trouble passing the reverse Bedchel test.

This series is a great way to discuss feminism because of the way the books have been spaced about 10 years apart. The 90s books are about a boy and the men around him. Women are stock characters and do not dare to be more than that. Molly’s financial and sexual independence and candle-making are all that Hobb dares give her.

In the Fool’s trilogy we are into the social world of this millenium. The Fool (like Dumbledore) is now gay. Patience turns into a competent war-leader and Kettricken into a capable queen. The villain is a woman terrorizing a matrilineal people. Poor Fitz still lives in the world of the 90s, and so doesn’t want Nettle to become what she can be. Probably that’s why he continues to yearn after Molly and spurns the Fool.

And now we have the book written in 2015. His daughters have forced Fitz into the 21st century. He has become less whiny and I no longer want to strangle him for his self-pity. Rest I have already said in the paragraphs above.

Maybe if I went back and looked at my life in the 90s, I will hate myself as much as I hate Molly. I will hate the clothes I wore, the thoughts I dared have. The unquestioning acceptance of what was at the time seen as a profession appropriate for a woman. Maybe if I read the Golden Notebook again- and that book changed my life- I would find that Anna and her friend were unnecessarily whiny. Maybe if she had been alive, Molly too would have got the upgrade everybody else- including me- got.

So that’s what I get out of writing this post. A realization that there was more to a character I disliked that I was admitting to myself.


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