Reading some authors (Jim Butcher, for example) is like downing a shot: the experience is fast and fiery, with no time to catch your breath before you’re done. Reading other authors is like sipping something mellower and savoring the flavor. Robin Hobb is my favorite vintage for this.
I loved her Farseer Trilogy, but I’d been delaying starting her next one because I knew how fully it would suck me in. Waiting didn’t lessen its hold: I read most of Fool’s Errand, the 670-page opening to her Tawny Man trilogy, in less than a day. (I guess I didn’t really sip this one.)
Not because Fool’s Errand is a perfect book; it starts extremely slowly. Fitz Chivalry, the protagonist and narrator, doesn’t leave his secluded homestead and launch the story until page 221. Yet in the interim, Fitz receives several visitors, and their conversations fill in the fifteen years since the last book ended. I didn’t necessarily need the details, but I delighted in hanging out with these characters again. Fitz, Nighteyes, the Fool, Chade—they don’t have to be saving the world for me to be interested in what they’re doing.
As usual, Hobb’s writing is excellent. (One of my favorite quotes: “So on and on, he peeled callus away from my memories and brought all the old faces fresh to my mind again.”) She also continues to find new ways to interrogate the series’ central theme of identity and how it changes over the course of a life. Fitz goes by the alias Tom Badgerlock now, hiding from his past and the general populace of the Six Duchies, who don’t realize what he’s sacrificed for them. But confronting the kingdom’s new threat will require him to assume yet another set of roles, some of which see him acting as the teacher instead of the student.
I liked this arc, and the sense of coming full circle. Hobb’s characters are never static—not a one of her mainstays are the same as they were in the first books. I also enjoyed how she flipped the dynamics of her magic system. In the first trilogy, practitioners of the Skill (a revered form of telepathy between humans that has many additional uses) were among the realm’s many enemies. In Fool’s Errand, wielders of the Wit (a reviled form of telepathy between humans and animals) are the primary danger.
But again, these are character-driven tales. If you don’t like Fitz and Nighteyes, you won’t like this book and its meandering opening. On the other hand, if you don’t like Fitz and Nighteyes … I’m not sure what to make of you.
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