Mother of Assassins



Author Molly Tanzer posted a link to an article on Topless Robot today called “8 Fantasy Series That You Should Check Out If You Love Game of Thrones“.

Tanzer pointed out in her post that there wasn’t a single female author on the list, which was certainly a fair point. But when I looked at the list, I actually saw a trend which I find more disturbing in modern science fiction and fantasy criticism, so I’m going to point it out explicitly.

Not only does this list explicitly ignore ALL female authors and their contributions (which is an obvious problem)…but it explicitly ignores a woman who made a critical and SEMINAL contribution to the field of modern fantasy, in favor of including one of her less original imitators.

In this case, the imitator is male: Brent Weeks, the author of the Night Angel Triology, is placed on the list while Robin Hobb, the author of the Farseer Trilogy, is ignored.

Please let me say in advance that I have no problem with any of the series listed by this article. I particularly agree with the inclusion of The Dark Tower, The Black Company, and Night Angel as must-read series, and I enjoyed the Night Angel books a great deal. I even tried re-reading them recently, although I crapped out in the last novel when I realized that I had no interest in wading through a lot of material about infidelity, which is always a huge turn-off.


Nevertheless, leaving Robin Hobb off this list when she has produced some of the best fantasy world-building and plotting of the last twenty years is just inexcusable, and including the Night Angel Triology rather than the Farseer Trilogy, and without even mentioning Hobb and her influence on the field of modern fantasy, is just foolish.

The Night Angel Trilogy debuted in 2008: Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice was published in 1995. It predates Night Angel by over a decade, and covers much of the same ground in terms of plot, themes, and world-building–in particular the combination of the assassin’s trade with supernatural abilities.

The Farseer Trilogy also pre-dates the game series Assassin’s Creed, to which Night Angel in inevitably compared, by several years. The first game in that series was released in 2007, and probably influenced the cover artist of the Night Angel books significantly, although the game is not likely to be an influence on the author.


The discussion of influences in weird fiction and fantasy is obviously a slippery slope. I would never say that Robin Hobb originated the whole field of modern sword and sorcery, for example, given the seminal influence of authors like Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber. She also didn’t begin the trend in making modern fantasy much darker and more gritty, in the 1980’s–note that both the first books of The Black Company series and The Dark Tower series made it to this list, published in 1984 and 1982 respectively.

If you go back far enough time, I wouldn’t deny the orientalizing influence of Richard Francis Burton’s translations of 1001 Arabian Nights on these novels, particularly as those stories were filtered by fantasy authors like Lord Dunsany and Clark Ashton Smith.

The point is that there is a time-line, a continuum of influence and growth in the field of fantasy, and it is the habit of modern critics to cut women out of the Family Tree in horrendously dishonest and destructive ways.

Women in science fiction and fantasy are too often denied credit for being “seminal” creative forces in their field of endeavor. When women do achieve great things, and pass on tremendous gifts of creativity, ideas and influence to others, they are far too often carved out of their rightful positions of respect and homage.

Laurell K. Hamilton is arguably the creative grandmother of at least three popular franchise IP’s in the present day: Twilight (and by extension 50 Shades of Grey), True Blood and Harry Dresden are all seeds sprung from the new ground that Hamilton broke in her Anita Blake series.

Nonetheless, Hamilton rarely receives thanks from any of her imitators and proteges, nor are her books lauded and promoted by critics and fans of the popular series that looted her work. Instead she tends to be erased from the discourse…and since she is very much alive and working, she is arguably being impoverished and harmed by this treatment.

In much the same way, Robin Hobb is indisputably the Mother of the Assassin Trope in postmodern fantasy. And she should be credited as such, and read by those who want to understand modern fantasy and enjoy it more deeply. She certainly deserves better than to be erased from the picture by fans, critics, and corporations who exploit the genre for profit.


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About Arinn

Author, Game Developer, Anthropologist, Feminist, reformed Supervillainess.
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4 Responses to Mother of Assassins

  1. Ursula K. Le Guin’s books will always have a place into my heart, especially the left hand of darkness

    • Arinn says:

      Agreed. She’s also a great author, and less often forgotten by critics. I think she’s officially the Female Author Least Likely To Be Overlooked in SF.

  2. marshb says:

    I love these essays. Not only are they informative, they get me to look at other influences and sources to read when the more “well known” or “established” authors have become so stale!
    God dammit! Variety is what keeps things fresh and original, why exclude anyone?! 🙁

    • Arinn says:

      Generally speaking, we assume that there is no conscious choice to exclude anyone. The fact is, the looting of original ideas and thoughts from women by men is part of a general trend whereby men appropriate women’s speech and thought.

      This is the literary equivalent of that classic scene where a woman speaks up at a business meeting and is largely ignored…but when her ideas are appropriated and slightly re-phrased by a man at the table, everyone suddenly takes notice and calls him brilliant, awesome, and worthy of recognition and promotion.

      If you’re a woman with a lot to say or a lot to offer, this obviously gets really old.

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