Normally, I like every entry in a series to stand on its own. Not entirely—it’s (obviously!) fun to have a larger narrative that runs through each book, grows and complicates along the way, and doesn’t fully resolve until the finale. But I generally find it more satisfying if the novels are independent enough to conclude with an ending that wraps up a smaller storyline.
Robin Hobb’s FitzChivalry Farseer trilogies don’t really work that way.
The first trilogy comes closest. Books 1 and 2 close with major turning points that lead to an exceptional Book 3. The second trilogy begins with the most self-contained tale of the bunch, but Book 5—while enjoyable—wouldn’t work without Book 6. And the final trilogy starts with my least-favorite installment, a story defined by low tension until the last chapters, when Fitz’s daughter Bee is taken by the Servants, the same shadowy group who tortured his friend the Fool.
Book 8, Fool’s Quest, picks up immediately after. The Servants have concealed their actions, erasing the memories of their misdeeds from the minds of those who witnessed them. Fitz—who’d left Bee in the care of others—doesn’t realize what’s happened for a good chunk of the novel. Then he and his mentor Chade begin the agonizing process of piecing together who attacked Fitz’s home and why. There’s no mystery for the reader, though: we already saw the tragedy unfold from Bee’s perspective. (A leaner version of this trilogy might have had her simply vanish so that we could solve the riddle along with Fitz.) Eventually, he uncovers the truth and sets out after Bee. The book ends in mid-hunt, with no resolution other than the promise of a sequel.
But despite the lack of suspense and closure, I still devoured Fool’s Quest. I remain enthralled by the characters, and they’re finally on the move again, leaving the familiarity of Buckkeep and Withywoods for new lands, a shift that allows Hobb to play to one of her great strengths: epic, original worldbuilding. I’m also glad to have more sense of where the larger story is going. (Fitz is presumably going to track down the Servants and kill them.) That’s the right kind of spoiler, an implicit promise that builds anticipation. Good authors fulfill those promises in unpredictable ways, and I fully expect Hobb to do that in Book 9.
And once I’m there, I bet I’ll judge this trilogy as I did the previous ones: as a single tale split into multiple volumes. The breakpoints might have been frustrating, but the collective experience is hard to beat.