Robin Hobb – PIEBALDS AND PRINCES

Suppose you were born with a magical ability, but the ability was so intrinsic to who you were that you were unaware of how unusual it was. Just as a child doesn’t know what a miracle it is to be able to see colours, or distinguish the different scents of flowers and fruit, you might assume that everyone was aware of animal life as keenly as you were.  You might think that all people were aware that sometimes an animal’s consciousness might brush against your own.

You would not think of it as something dirty and disgusting.  You would not be ashamed of it.

Until someone told you that the Wit was a bestial magic, and you deserved to die for practising it.

This is the situation for young FitzChivalry Farseer when the reader first encounters him in The Farseer Trilogy.  His ability to use the Wit endangers him, and affects his relationships with everyone around him.  Those who value him must protect him and force him to conceal his magic. Those who wish to destroy him will use it as one more tool against him.

We all know the saying, ‘History is written by the victors’.

When my readers first began to visit the Six Duchies, in The Farseer Trilogy, the Skill was a highly prized magic.  The training and practice of the Skill was a closely-guarded knowledge, and only those of appropriate character were instructed in it.  Although it was known to sometimes appear ‘randomly’, it was seen as the magic of the Farseer nobility. The Skill enabled its practitioners to ‘see from afar’ as well as to communicate with others talented in that magic, or to influence weaker minds.  It was both a weapon and an art.  It was certainly not appropriate to teach it to young bastards such as FitzChivalry.

In contrast, the Wit was a despised magic, a loathsome practice that might lead to bestiality. Wit-users were shapeshifters who used their magical ability to spy on their neighbours.  Those who possessed it were persecuted, and it was believed that the only way to be rid of such people was to hang them over running water and then burn their bodies.  It was believed those who practised the Wit could assume the form of their Wit-beasts, or bring down sickness on flocks and herds that belonged to their neighbours.

Those who practised the Wit were disparagingly referred to as Piebalds, though among themselves they might speak of being of Old Blood. In The Farseer Trilogy, readers learn that Fitz is possessed of a dangerous magic, one he does not understand, but one that might lead to his death and his dishonour.

In The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince I wanted to write a tale that began in a time when the Wit was not so despised but was simply a folk magic, not so different from the arts practised by the hedge-witches of the Six Duchies.  I wanted to explore how a genetic predisposition towards that magic might have been introduced to the royal Farseer bloodlines, and to write about it from the point of view of someone who knew all the details. Someone who had witnessed it, and possibly been a pivotal player in that change. Someone who was not the victor, but only a survivor of a turning point in history.

The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince is out now in paperback.

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