I’m looking at you, Robin Hobb.
How is it possible to get so caught up on a piece of paper? Paper that holds a world you’ve come to know and characters you’ve come to love and hate. The emotional attachment baffles my mind.
I recently finished Robin Hobb’s last book in the world of Fitz and the Fool (I say recently – what I mean is I stayed up until 3:30 in the morning because I just could not put this book down). The series spans 16 books, split into different parts of the world with different characters, until they all come together in a final showdown in Assassin’s Fate (an obvious name, but a very fitting one nonetheless). I will not leave any obvious spoilers, but for what I need to say, it might not be hard to guess for some of you. I recommend not thinking too hard about the why, but focus more on the how.
But first, lets go back to the beginning; to analyze how this fondness for the characters came about.
I think it takes an exceptionally brilliant writer to actually make you give any sort of crap for the characters (I’m talking real crap giving, not that wishy washy “they belong together” sort of crap giving you get in romance books). The characters develop a depth to them that makes it feel like it’s almost real to you; these characters are people. As is the case with most first acquaintances, these ties strengthen and grow as you invest more time and energy into that connection. You relate and recognise the similarities between yourself and certain characters (my personal one was Spark) which only serve to make you give more of a damn about what may happen to that character.
One thing that strikes me as I type this is how Robin had the ability to use widely recognizable traits worldwide and apply those to her characters so intimately. Lets take a look at Fitz – he starts off as your typical hero would, in abandonment and hardship, with all the things to mold him into a humble yet brave character, the makings of a hero. But he is so much more than that. He’s also angry, and headstrong (which really doesn’t work to his advantage sometimes) and does what he thinks is right (don’t we all?) regardless of other, more “logical” explanations. He’s not perfect. Robin takes that “no one is perfect” mentality and makes it her own. She imbues her characters with a faultiness that makes them so much more believable, and a vulnerability that makers us want to care for them (for this statement, I am referring mostly to Fitz, Beloved, Burrich, Kettricken, Brashen and Leftrin). Other characters tend to have more hardier natures, funnily enough, mostly women come to mind such as; Althea, Alise (after she grows a backbone), Spark, Amber, Nettle, Bee, Etta and Nighteyes. Bear in mind, I haven’t read the first half of the series in a long while, so my memory may be skewed and others might have vastly different opinions, that’s okay.
We come to love these imperfect, perfect characters and are devastated when any one of them dies. Which, with Robin Hobb being God, must happen sometimes.
The Build Up
Of course, we can love these characters all we want and their demise can still be ruined by the author’s poor construct of suspense and finale. To really feel a characters death, the author has to build the suspense accordingly. Having the ability to make you fall for a character and then botching their death is a real turn off for a lot of readers (very much so for me). It has to be personal and relevant. It can’t be something like “And then he was stabbed and that was that.” kinda thing. It has to be meaningful.
Hobbs build up to certain characters deaths was expertly done. A good dose of reminiscing, some suspense, and a pinch of sacrifice and I was a blubbering mess. I couldn’t believe I had such an emotional response to these scenes, and I believe it is, in part, because Hobb built the scene so well that it would have been hard to sit through it dried eyed and cold. After all, we read books to go on journeys, to feel everything the characters feel, and enjoy it. Not sit there, cold hearted, as you stare at line after line (ohhmahgwaadd that would be awful!).
Alas, when the dreaded line comes “so he passed away” or, “darkness took him” or even, “and he embraced his old friend”, all emotional hell breaks loose. Regarding the scene that got to me the most in Hobbs’ last book, the line that finished certain characters off was so touching and so heartbreaking that I couldn’t help but feel tears slide down my face; yet still I smiled. It wasn’t the words themselves, individually, that made me feel what I did, it was what they represented, what they came together to make; a scene that was both sad and happy, tragic and heart warming, a sacrifice and yet victorious.
From the first book to the last, it was a fitting end.