Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Quest marks the end of what has become one of my favorite fantasy trilogies.
The story picks up where the second book, Royal Assassin, left off. The king is dead, slain by treachery. Fitz is thought to be dead too, and he’s broken again, this time in mind as much as body. (Hobb is rather fond of battering her protagonist.) After a long convalescence, Fitz sets out to avenge the king and find his true heir.
But the pacing remains slow, with a clear goal and some of the strongest fantasy elements (dragons and prophecies) only coming in now, in the third book. And the ending is less climactic than I expected: the final confrontations with the marauding Red Ship raiders and the king’s killer are both resolved in a few pages. Most of the story—more than usual—is about the journey to the solution rather than its application. There’s no glory for Fitz either. He’s not actually much of an assassin, but he still prefers working in the shadows, acting as an unrecognized catalyst. I also could have done with one fewer instance of Fitz being captured by and then escaping from his enemies. Worse, the balance between showing versus telling occasionally feels off. Hobb is brilliant at demonstrating how Fitz experiences the Wit (telepathy with animals) and the Skill (telepathy with humans). But each chapter begins with a note written after the fact by Fitz, mini-information dumps that either expand on a key mechanic or summarize events happening elsewhere at the time of the narrative. Often this works as an efficient way to convey necessary-but-tedious details. But occasionally the format feels repetitive and forced, as if Hobb wrote one of these mini-essays simply because she’d locked herself into doing so. And in the least-satisfying instances, some of the series’ great mysteries are resolved in this brisk manner.
So why do I like the books so much? Because, despite everything I mentioned above, the story sings for me. The writing is beautiful, and Fitz and his wolf Nighteyes headline a cast of memorable characters. Thank goodness Hobb wrote other novels in this world. I’ll be back to read them, flaws and all.
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