She did it. Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Fate might have started slowly—as did the prior books in her Fitz and the Fool trilogy—but the middle was worth the wait. And the ending was sublime.
The beginning drags for a few reasons: Fitz doesn’t know his daughter Bee is alive, but we do, a dynamic that saps tension. (In this trilogy, Hobb frequently withholds knowledge from her characters but not the reader. One or two instances is fine, but it started to feel like a crutch to me.) The lore about Clerres, the home of the false prophets who kidnapped Bee, is repeated a bit too often. And on the way there to take revenge, Fitz and his companions encounter a host of characters from The Liveship Traders trilogy and The Rain Wild Chronicles, related series set in the same world.
I probably would have enjoyed the interludes more if I’d read those books. But they slowed the story for me, mostly because Fitz is a bystander as protagonists from other tales take their turn on what should be his stage. The Fool knows them—he appears in their books—but I would have preferred it if Fitz had a more active role during the long journey to Clerres. He does little planning for his assault on the false prophets’ stronghold, and the few things of import that happen before then aren’t his doing. Yes, he’s emotionally battered, but he’s still remarkably passive for a character Hobb fashioned as a Catalyst, a disrupter of the timestream. At one point, he even admits this. “Since we had come aboard Paragon,” he says, referring to one of the Liveships that sails him to Clerres, “I had felt control of my plans slipping ever farther from my grip. Not for the first time, I wished I’d come alone and unhampered.” I felt that way too.
But when we finally get to Clerres, the story’s long fuse burns down to its core, and the plot explodes. The attack-turned-rescue-mission begins. Fire and fighting break out. Fitz’s companions prove themselves. Bee becomes even more compelling. And dragons add to the chaos. This section of the novel was exhilarating, and it sets up the beautiful ending, which I won’t spoil aside from saying it’s still with me. Fitz’s fate is fitting.
One other thing I liked: throughout the series, the Fool’s gender has been an open question. He takes on several personalities, some female. No one is quite sure of his true nature, and at one point, the mystery bothers Fitz a great deal. But by Assassin’s Fate, he’s in his sixties and more relaxed about issues of identity. “I’ve known him for many years,” he explains to another of their cohort, “in many guises. He was King Shrewd’s jester when I was a boy. The Fool. Then Lord Golden. Mage Gray. And now Lady Amber. All different. Yet always my friend.” There’s no resolution here, but it struck me as a good place to leave it—by acknowledging that the relationship mattered more than its exact definition.
So: my favorite fantasy saga not named Lord of the Rings is over. I might check out The Liveship Traders and The Rain Wild Chronicles eventually. But for now, I’m going to let Fitz’s tale linger in my memory. What a great ride.