Monthly Archives: September 2015
Posted by Amos M. Carpenter
A bit delayed, I know, but here is my review of Robin Hobb’s second book in the Fitz and the Fool trilogy, Fool’s Quest, which came out in August.
First off, if you haven’t read the previous book, Fool’s Assassin (see my review from last year), I would recommend that you: a) stop reading this review, because it will contain some Book 1 spoilers, b) get your hands on a copy of said Book 1 and start reading that, and if you haven’t already, c) go to the beginning and read the first book of the first trilogy in this epic series: Assassin’s Apprentice. (My post on that book lists the order of all the previous books, but if you want to limit yourself to the “Fitz books”, read the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies before getting to The Fitz and the Fool.) Yes, you can begin with this trilogy, but starting at the beginning will be worth it, trust me.
Still with me? Great, you’re clearly a connoisseur. (Surely you wouldn’t have cheated… right?)
The Front Cover
As with the first book, the version that came out in Australia is the same as the UK large paperback version, this time in a silver theme where the first one was in gold (or was that bronze and we’re heading for gold with Book 3?).
The dominating image is that of a crow with black (and some white) feathers carrying a thin band or a ribbon in its beak. The only other image is nestled in the fanciful decoration of the letter Q, and appears to be a small bottle or stoppered vial containing something dark red, shot through with strands of silver. The significance of both will become apparent as you read through the book.
A succinct endorsement from the Guardian, the expected words of the title, author, and series, and we’re almost allowed to begin reading.
The Back Cover
A quick glance at the back cover shows that there’s not much worth noting other than a black-and-white feather, a blurb that vaguely describes the main conflict that drives the plot, but which I personally found a bit misleading, and another endorsement from the Sunday Telegraph.
Let’s get to it!
Middle books in trilogies can sometimes be the author’s less-loved step-child, and something readers will endure in order to get to the good bit, i.e. the conclusion in Book 3. Not so with Robin Hobb, in any of her series (I mean, come on, how great was Royal Assassin, where we got to know Nighteyes?), and especially not so in this particular trilogy.
The first book did a great job of setting the mood, catching us up on what Fitz had been up to since we left him at the end of Fool’s Fate, and introducing some new characters – especially Fitz’s wonderful, quirky daughter, Bee – before introducing the core of the trilogy’s plot when (I did warn you about spoilers, didn’t I?) Bee was abducted by sinister forces (the timing of which the blurb gets wrong) and the Fool appeared where you’d least expect him: at the end of Fitz’s knife, revealing in the final chapters a shocking double meaning to the title Fool’s Assassin. Of course we already know that at that time, Fitz didn’t recognise the Fool, dirty and broken as he was, and thought he was protecting Bee from a filthy old beggar. He took him through the memory stone pillars to Buckkeep to try to heal him, leaving his homestead of Withywoods unprotected.
Anyone who knows Fitz can guess that Fitz will blame himself for Bee’s abduction, but of course it will be some time before he actually finds out about it. In the meantime, we the readers are distracted from the carrot dangling in front of us, that is, anticipating that Fitz will go out and rescue Bee, by witnessing Fitz being drawn back into the intrigues and relationships in and around Buckkeep, as well as learning more and more about the Fool’s story. As we do so, we learn about the cruelty of those called the Servants, what they aim to do and what atrocities the Fool has suffered at their hands. Of course we already knew that, despite Fitz’s certainty that the Fool wouldn’t survive, they would find a way to heal him – after all, the trilogy wouldn’t have been named Fitz and the Fool if one of them were to make only a brief appearance and then die… right? Plus, we know about the power of the Skill. And (spoiler-ish hint!) if you know the Rain Wild Chronicles, you may be able to make a connection between events there and the front cover.
I don’t want to spoil too much of Book 2 for those who haven’t read it yet, but this one thing I just can’t… not say. (Now’s a good time to go away if you don’t want to see Book 2 spoilers at all.)
One of the best things about this book is that Fitz – at long last – gets recognition for all that he’s sacrificed and done behind the scenes for his friends, his king and his country. I won’t go into detail how much recognition that is, or what form it takes, but his reaction to it was just wonderfully written and, I’m not ashamed to say, had me sniffing and sobbing with tears of joy.
This book re-introduces the issues surrounding the magic known in the Six Duchies as the Wit, and the topic of Fitz bonding with another animal is brought to the reader’s attention more than in the first book. Again, I’ll stop there so I won’t spoil things with too many details, but as much as I loved Nighteyes, I realised how good it would be for Fitz to find another bond partner.
Most of the tension in the story comes from the Fool wanting to get back to the town Clerres, where he grew up as a young White – the sooner the better – while Fitz wants to pursue Bee’s captors but is tied down with new obligations as well as a reluctance to act too rashly without knowing more about what he’s up against. (Who would’ve believed Fitz would ever grow wise?)
Just as the reader realised in Book 1 what Bee was long before Fitz gets it through his thick skull in Book 2, we know that Bee’s captors and the people on whom the Fool wants to exact his revenge are one and the same. Of course it can’t be that easy though, and the beginning of the journey is delayed while the reader sinks deeper into the clutches of the intricacies of life at court.
That’s not to say that these delays are annoying, or that these intricacies are boring – I found that for me they created an interesting internal tension, as I couldn’t get enough of all those details and loved meeting old acquaintances from previous books again, while at the same time wanting the two friends to get going already!
Fool’s Quest does what middle books are meant to do, and so much more. It sets the stage for the conclusion with consummate skill; it leaves the reader drooling for the well-deserved revenge and rescue that must surely come, but also agonising over the cliffhanger ending that must just-as-surely be pointing to unexpected obstacles in the path to that goal.
Along the way, readers are treated to nostalgic walks down memory lane as they encounter once again several much-loved characters from earlier books, but also find out how much some characters have changed.
If there’s anything to criticise, I found myself wishing for more chapters from Bee’s perspective. There were precious few of those, and she is just so refreshingly different that I would’ve loved to learn more about her.
Personally, I can only groan at the idea that I must wait another year to get my hands on Book 3. I don’t even know its title yet! (Amazon lists it as “Robin Hobb Untitled 3″… grrr!) This time, I’ll ask for an ARC.
If you read my review of Book 1 last year, you may remember that I complained about the number of errors the editors let slip through. There were a few in this one as well, but nowhere near as bad as Book 1, and not such glaring ones that ripped me out of the narrative. So kudos to the publishers for the improvement.
Anyone able to tell me what Book 3 will be called, or what’s required to get an ARC, please let me know in the comments.