After finishing Robin Hobb’s Golden Fool, my general reaction was that, in the best way possible, I’d been here before.
The second book in Hobb’s Tawny Man trilogy bears more than a passing resemblance to Royal Assassin, the second book in her Farseer trilogy. In each, Fitz juggles multiple responsibilities while trying to face down a variety of potential threats. (In Golden Fool, the threats take the form of Piebald radicals from the previous book, Outislanders who preyed upon the Six Duchies in the first series, and emissaries from Bingtown, which played a key role in an intervening series.) As a result, there’s no clear goal for Fitz to strive for, and no definitive ending—Golden Fool isn’t any more self-contained than Royal Assassin. Both feel like bridge books to the next installments in the series.
The parallels don’t end there. When you step back and compare the larger Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies, you can see similar arcs. In the first books, Fitz enters court life and saves the heir to the throne. In the second books, it’s his turn to be saved, and a grand quest is announced. In the third books (and here I’m making an educated guess based on clues in Golden Fool), that quest is undertaken, and it involves dragons. Even the titles mirror: the Farseer trilogy consists of Assassin’s Apprentice, Royal Assassin, and Assassin’s Quest (with “Assassin” in first, second, and first position); the Tawny Man trilogy consists of Fool’s Errand, Golden Fool, and Fool’s Fate (with the position of “Fool” following the same pattern).
These echoes are probably intentional. In the epilogue to Golden Fool, Fitz says, “I think we are born into our circuits. Like a colt on the end of a training line, we trot in the circular path ordained for us. We go faster, we slow down, we halt on command, and we begin again. And each time we think the circle is something new.” By this point in the story, Fitz is trotting the second lap on a number of circuits. He’s reprised his role as spy and assassin for the Farseer monarchy. He’s taken on the title of Skillmaster and started teaching the magic to gifted students (much as Galen once taught him). He’s raised an adopted son (much as he was raised by Burrich). And he’s sacrificed everything for the good of the realm (much as Verity did during the days of the Red Ship Raiders).
Those are mostly fantastical events. But the theme—that history repeats itself, even within a lifetime—is very real. And it’s one of the things I appreciate most about this meandering, captivating series. I can’t wait to see where it goes next.
Even, and maybe especially, if it feels familiar.