A Spoiler-Free Beginner’s Guide to the Realm of the Elderlings Series by Robin Hobb
Starting the Realm of the Elderings can be a huge undertaking, with 16 main series books and a bevy of novellas and short stories.
However, the series is much less daunting once you actually get into it. The series is broken into five trilogies (well, one is a tetralogy), where each one has a nice conclusion while also building on what came before. With this series you won’t be waiting the entire time for a clean resolution!
What are the main books in the Realm of the Elderlings Series?
The Farseer Trilogy
- Assassin’s Apprentice
- Royal Assassin
- Assassin’s Quest
The Liveship Traders
- Ship of Magic
- Mad Ship
- Ship of Destiny
The Tawny Man Trilogy
- Fool’s Errand
- Golden Fool
- Fool’s Fate
The Rainwild Chronicles
- The Dragon Keeper
- Dragon Haven
- City of Dragons
- Blood of Dragons
The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy
- Fool’s Assassin
- Fool’s Quest
- Assassin’s Fate
The Farseer Trilogy, The Tawny Man Trilogy, and the Fitz and the Fool Trilogy all follow the same main character, Fitz, while the other sub-series are set in another part of the same world.
What Should I Expect from the Realm of the Elderlings?
- The best characters in the entire genre
- Emotional and at times gut wrenching plots
- Lyrical prose
- Some of the most heinous villains
- Some of the most complicated and nuanced villains
- Lots of history and lore
- The Fool (the best fantasy character ever)
Where should I start reading the Realm of the Elderings?
The most common answer is to just follow publication order. While that is great advice for most of the series, the answer is a bit more nuanced than that.
You can actually start with either the Farseer Trilogy or the Liveship Traders Trilogy. Both are set in the same world but are unconnected stories; the Farseer Trilogy takes place in the land known as the Six Duchies, while the Liveship Traders is set to the lands further south. The characters and storylines in these trilogies don’t intersect until the Tawny Man trilogy, and so either are good starting points.
Which starting point is best for you? It depends on what you like best in your fantasy stories.
The Farseer Trilogy is a single, first-person POV story of a young man named Fitz and is a deeply emotional and complex coming of age narrative. Some people struggle with the first book, Assassin’s Apprentice, because you spend the beginning of the book in the mind of a six year old. This turns off a lot of readers who are still getting used to how Hobb slowly paces her stories and builds out her characters and world. However, if you stick with the trilogy you will be rewarded with one of the most three-dimensional and complete characters in all of fiction. You also get to meet the Fool right away, one of Hobb’s greatest creations.
If you dislike first-person POV stories or find Assassin’s Apprentice a bit slow in the beginning, you can definitely just jump over to Ship of Magic. The Liveship Traders trilogy is a multi-POV, third-person epic fantasy full of pirates, ship battles, magical talking ships, giant water snakes, and so much more. These books are still gradually paced (this is Robin Hobb after all!) but you get to the action much more quickly than in the Farseer Trilogy.
Wherever you start (either Farseer or Liveship Traders), you should then go and read the other one before moving onto Tawny Man. Yes, you could definitely jump right into Tawny Man right after Farseer without reading The Liveship Traders (since it continues the stories of Fitz and the Fool), but you will lose out on so much of the richness of Hobb’s world.
By the time you get to the final books, the whole series is so closely integrated that having read all of the series before is helpful in appreciating what Hobb has built in this series.
So, in recap, start with the Farseer Triology or The Liveship Traders, then go back and read the other one. Proceed with the final three sub-series in publication order.
What about the Novellas and Short Stories?
Hobb has also published novellas and short stories in the world of the Elderlings. These are all optional.
The most significant one is The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince, a novella which explores some of the history of the Six Duchies. I recommend reading it any time after Fool’s Errand.
There is also a short story collection called The Inheritance which includes three stories set in the Realm of the Elderlings, “Homecoming”, “The Inheritance”, and “Cat’s Meat”.
Finally, there are a few other short stories in anthologies:
- “Words Like Coins” in A Fantasy Medley edited by Yanni Kuznia
- “Blue Boots” in Songs in Love and Death edited by edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
- “Her Father’s Sword in The Book of Swords edited by Gardner Dozois
- The Triumph” in Warriors edited by Gardner Dozois and George R.R. Martin.
There are no good or bad times to read these short stories. I read them all after the Rainwild Chronicles.
Do I have to read the Rainwild Chronicles?
You may have heard that the Rainwild Chronicles is bad and should be skipped. I am here to tell you that is wrong. While the Rainwild Chronicles are the weakest part of the Realm of the Elderlings (it should have been two books instead of four), they are still better than most other fantasy out there with so much lore about the dragons and the Elderlings. They should not be skipped.