The first two trilogies in Robin Hobb’s FitzChivalry Farseer series contain some of my favorite fantasy books. Fitz is a compelling protagonist, the supporting characters are often just as fascinating, and the worldbuilding is top-notch. Sadly, Fool’s Assassin, the first book in the third trilogy, didn’t quite measure up for me.
The story begins about a decade after the events of the previous book. Fitz is well into his forties now and living a quiet life at Withywoods, the estate his father retired to (and then died at) after abdicating the throne. Court politics rarely intrude: Fitz has little interest in resuming his role as the crown’s assassin or advising the new ruler. Instead, he’s enjoying his marriage to Molly, the childhood love he was separated from for almost two decades.
All this is fine—I don’t begrudge Fitz’s happiness, especially after what Hobb put him through in the earlier trilogies. And the themes of maturation and change are in keeping with the earlier books’ arcs. But the first entries in the series mixed Fitz’s personal problems with existential threats to the kingdom. Fitz also journeyed far afield, exploring new lands and old magics. In Fool’s Assassin, he barely leaves Withywoods. Much of his time is spent on mundane tasks such as maintaining the estate or supervising the spoiled (and unnecessary) charges foisted upon him by Chade, his former mentor. The stakes remain relatively low, our knowledge of the world doesn’t expand much, and there’s little sense of wonder. (Where are the dragons?!?)
Things pick up near the end, when the Fool—Fitz’s best friend—finally reappears and begs him to complete an unpleasant task. But by the time I got there, I felt like the book’s previous chapters could have been compressed into the first act, with Fitz’s decision leading us into act two.
None of this is to say that I hated Fool’s Assassin. We’re still talking about Robin Hobb, after all. She gives us Bee, a great new character, and we get to see the world from her point of view. I also enjoyed the part where Fitz questions his reliability as a narrator. “There were a few years where I fancied myself quite the hero,” he says at one point, “and other times when I saw myself as star-crossed and unjustly oppressed by my life … perhaps I had not been as honest … as I might have been. I had been young, I excused myself, and who does not put himself in the best possible light when he presents his tale …?” Given that Bee’s sections are in first-person as well, and that Fitz frequently burns his journal entries, we’re left with the impression that Hobb is a compiler rather than an author, salvaging her subjects’ writings as best she can and then arranging them—along with excerpts from relevant authorities—into a coherent manuscript. It’s artifice, of course. But I’m always curious to see how authors justify (or don’t) their narrators’ supposed ability to perfectly recreate moments and dialogue from the past.
In any case, it won’t be long before I pick up Fool’s Quest, the next entry in the series. I trust Hobb to right the ship, especially now that we have a clear heading. I just wish Fool’s Assassin had gotten there faster.
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