Blog Archives

Review of Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb

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

Fool's Quest - front cover

The front cover of my copy of Fool’s Quest

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

Fool's Quest - back cover

The back cover of my copy of Fool’s Quest

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!

Book 2

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.

Recognition… Finally!

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.

The Wit

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.

Tension

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!

Summary

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.

Review of Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb

Having finished reading Robin Hobb’s latest work, the recently published Fool’s Assassin, Book 1 of the Fitz and the Fool trilogy, and having freed up some time on the weekend, I’m finally ready to write the review I mentioned in my previous post.

I’ll keep this post relatively spoiler-free for those who haven’t read it; of course, I won’t be able to restrain myself from writing another spoiler-laden post later on….

The Front Cover

Fool's Assassin Front Cover

The front cover of my copy of Fool’s Assassin

This version of the front cover (the UK large paperback version) has been kept relatively simple in design, but done lovingly with embossed fonts and a gilded look that seem to want to let you know you’re holding a masterpiece in your hands, even before you read the endorsement from George R. R. Martin.

At first glance, the daggers make sense for something bearing the word “Assassin”, but the significance of the bee near the top won’t – at least not until you’re about a fifth of the way through the book’s 630 pages. The snow-covered scene around the first letter of the title is a simplified drawing of the location where most of the story takes place: Withywoods.

The Back Cover

Fool's Assassin Back Cover

The back cover of my copy of Fool’s Assassin

Turning the book over, you’ll see the blurb, another bee at the top, and a butterfly wing at the bottom, the significance of which will be made clear later.

Re-reading the blurb again now that I’ve read the book, I find the last sentence to be a little misleading, but I’ll get to that.

The Backstory

While Robin Hobb does try to cater for first-time visitors to her Realm of the Elderlings (the name given to the world in which most of Robin’s stories take place) by gradually mentioning (some of) the most important parts of what has happened previously, I would probably not recommend this book as an introduction to her writing.

Those not familiar with Fitz’s tendency to overthink everything and his failure to understand why some people care about him without having ulterior motives may well consider him an unrealistically masochistic drama queen who loves to feel sorry for himself. However, if you are among that group, I would heartily recommend introducing yourself to what has to be one of the best fantasy series ever written (you can probably tell that I’m completely objective) by beginning with Assassin’s Apprentice (see the list of books there), Book 1 of The Farseer Trilogy, and working your way through that trilogy as well as The Tawny Man Trilogy, at a minimum. Ideally, read The Liveship Traders Trilogy and The Rain Wilds Chronicles as well in order to get a full understanding of the story. It’s worth it.

Those who do know Fitz, on the other hand, have suffered with him through all the heartache and pain Robin has wreaked upon him, and know of his unique combination of talents as well as the sacrifices he has made for his kingdom, will most certainly appreciate that the author takes it easy on our favourite unsung hero… at first. And they will love the story Fitz has to tell.

To give you a quick summary of the backstory… ok, I’ve made several attempts at writing this and gave up. There’s no way of doing the story justice and keeping it relatively short at the same time, so, once again, I’ll refer anyone not familiar with the backstory to the previous trilogies. And, if you like, to my Fitz and the Fool post from a few months ago, where I wrote about their wonderful friendship.

The Plot

Fool’s Assassin begins slowly. (In fact, I said the same thing in my Assassin’s Apprentice post, but it’s even more so in this case.) Fitz, who, as previously, tells the story from a first-person perspective, lives and, somewhat surprisingly, enjoys a quiet life in the backwaters of the duchy in which he grew up. Known as Tom Badgerlock, for it is safer if no one knows that FitzChivalry Farseer is still alive, he and his wife Molly look after the Withywoods estate, where once his father Chivalry lived (and later died from his “accident”) after abdicating the throne over the revelation that he had fathered a bastard.

Fitz has many regrets, mostly about losing Burrich, the man who raised him, and about the fact that the Fool seems to have moved on without as much as a word (“doesn’t call, doesn’t write…”) after taking his leave at the end of Fool’s Fate. He deals with his melancholy by writing each night, presumably the story of The Tawny Man, his current musings, and sometimes doing translations of Skill-related writings for his old mentor Chade, the assassin-turned-royal-advisor to King Dutiful with whom he occasionally keeps in touch. He also keeps in touch with Nettle, his daughter with Molly, who is now a grown woman and Skillmistress in Buckkeep, where the royal family lives. However, Fitz wants nothing to do with the goings-on at court.

Except for Molly, no one around him knows of his abilities with the “royal” magic, the Skill, nor of his Wit, the baser magic that allows him to sense almost all forms of life and to communicate with animals. Not to mention that he is a trained assassin. Since his wolf-partner, Nighteyes, died many years ago, he has never wanted to bond with another animal.

Even strange events one Winterfest, when a messenger appears, asking to speak to him but disappears before he even has the chance to meet her, aren’t enough to make him realise what is going on. As before, he still possesses an extremely bright mind, but continues to wield it with all the finesse of a blacksmith doing fine embroidery. Web, the Wit-expert, is visiting and tells him that the strange “performers” who turned up unexpectedly shortly after the messenger seem invisible to his Wit-sense. This should ring a bell for anyone familiar with the previous books, but Fitz simply finds he’s enjoying himself while hunting for clues as to what happened to make the messenger disappear without delivering her message, leaving nothing but some blood stains. When the trail goes cold, he dismisses it as odd but not worth pursuing.

Contrary to what the blurb suggests, his life does not erupt into any further violence at this point. Rather, it continues peacefully for many years.

The Skill-healing performed on him by his “coterie” in the previous books has the lingering effect of keeping him healed and looking young, while Molly, ever pragmatic, refuses similar treatment. Thus Fitz gets to watch her age and regret that she cannot bear him any more children. (After Nettle, Molly had several other children with Burrich, who married her when everyone thought Fitz dead.) And then, well into menopause, Molly claims that she is finally pregnant. The reader’s heart, once again, breaks ever so slowly as Fitz struggles with the realisation that Molly is becoming senile, insisting she is right about her pregnancy as the seasons pass.

As mentioned above, I do not wish to spoil the story if you haven’t already read it. Suffice it to say, then, that there is more heartbreak in store for Fitz, as people he holds dear pass away, but there is also a wonderful new friendship that takes up the bulk of the book, a fateful reunion with the Fool (I won’t count that as a spoiler – given the book’s title, you’d expect the Fool to make an appearance, even though you wouldn’t expect it the way it happens, which will make you ponder several possible interpretations of said title), and even a few chapters from a new point of view.

The end of the book arrives suddenly. Having lulled you into a deeply intricate world of magics known and unknown, having built for you a spectrum of friends and enemies, the selfless and the selfish, and everything in-between, Robin Hobb springs the Fool on you from an unexpected angle, revealing that he has been seeking to contact Fitz for a long time and is attempting to find someone referred to only as “the unexpected son”. The story lives up to its title long before the reader realises it.

(Some of) The Details

Like in Fitz’s previous writings, each chapter begins with a few sentences or paragraphs of other writing – something Fitz found in historical scrolls, missives he has received, intercepted, or written but never sent, publications on various subjects, and so on. Typically, Robin uses these to give you a glimpse of the theme ahead, or some insight that will help you understand the greater story, although the connection between this “appetiser glimpse” and the chapter that follows is not always immediately obvious.

Isolated though Fitz is from the rest of the Six Duchies, the greater story around him continues, too. The land is in the process of adding a seventh duchy after the death of Eyod, Kettricken’s father and ruler of the Mountain Kingdom. Kettricken is no longer queen, having given the reins to her son, King Dutiful (who makes a couple of very small appearances; it seems Fitz is still successfully repressing the fact that he is actually Dutiful’s biological father). Nettle has managed to build a new coterie with several Skill-users for the King. The Witted, once hunted and killed, are now more accepted into society thanks to Web and the events of the previous books.

Once again, the realism present in a work of fantasy fiction is something to which all fantasy writers should aspire. The characters are finely-wrought and act believably in accordance with their own well thought-out backstory and the setting of the detailed tapestry that forms their world.

Robin does not buy into the “don’t ever use adverbs!” BS that some editors and writers seem to preach; she uses them, but not overly so to the point that it becomes a crutch. She manages, as ever, to use language that gives her writing that “authentic olden days feeling” without it sounding artificial or too try-hard, and without sending the average reader to the dictionary.

One thing that really bugged me, though – being a writer myself who is a bit of a grammar Nazi – was the number of errors in the book. Many were relatively minor and would be overlooked by most, but some are glaringly obvious. I’m wondering whether the publishers’ proofreaders (surely they have those?) and editors were on vacation to let that many errors slip through. I’ve contacted the publishers and will be emailing them a lengthy list of these errors in the hopes of stamping them out for future editions, at least. (Update: email sent!) I may also write them up as a blog post.

One for the Fans

Robin Hobb is an author who does not need to establish her credibility in a world of readers clamouring for high-paced, hard-hitting action. Rather, she is able to take her time, re-introducing the readers to characters directly and indirectly as though mentioning long-lost friends to her fans, who will be thrilled.

If you want hard-hitting non-stop action, this book will not be what you expect. If you enjoy letting yourself be drawn into a very rich and well-crafted world, however, where attention to detail is required to understand the finer details of the plot, you will love Robin Hobb’s latest book.

The author once said that Fitz’s story was done, and that she would not write any more stories involving him. That was before The Tawny Man. I am glad that Fitz once more managed to rattle around Robin’s brain and made her realise that there is more to his story that is worth telling.

Personally, I can’t wait until Book 2. And then Book 3. And, oh, I hope it doesn’t stop there.

Back – and ready to read Fool’s Assassin

After being away from home (and from blogging) for a while, I’m back again, and really looking forward to reading Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb, Book One of the new Fitz and the Fool trilogy. I couldn’t buy the book while overseas (at least not in English), so I bought it from Target back here in Perth for just under $20 (which is a decent price since the RRP is nearly $30).

I’ve got a bit of time this week to read it, but I’m a rather slow reader. (Plus, I’m still jet-lagged, so I’ve only read about 30 or so pages of it before becoming too tired to read last night.) So it’ll take me a few days to get through it – as much as I’m dying to devour the whole book in one sitting, I prefer to soak up every word and imagine every scene like a private movie in my head. Call me crazy, but it’s how I read.

Once those few days are up and I’ve read it (I’m hoping to finish on the weekend, but might not get there until next week), I will most definitely blog about my take on the book (yes, there will be spoilers!). It will, I surmise, most likely be a very positive review; after all, Robin Hobb is my favourite author for a reason (as George R. R. Martin says on the cover, it’s “Fantasy as it ought to be written”). Having said that, I’ve built up quite some excitement for this book, so it’s possible the book might not live up to my high expectations. (Possible… but doubtful. Despite the errors I’ve already found in the first 30 pages. Maybe I’ll blog about those, too.)

Also on my “TODO” list for the near future is finally catching up on reading some of my favourite blogs (yes, there will be comments on older posts I think, it’s been quite a while) and blogging about how to merge two versions of the same document (with LibreOffice Writer, in my case) that started out the same but have had different edits made, since I’m going to have to do that with my manuscript soon anyway. I’ve done it before and it’s quite easy, actually.

Anyway, there you go – my “I’m back for more” post. 🙂

In case you’re interested in previous Robin Hobb-related posts, here they are, 3 from the A-Z Challenge in April and two from a couple of months ago when she visited Perth:

(The one about hobbitses, on the other hand, has nothing to do with Robin Hobb. But it’s funny. I think.)

Thank you, Robin Hobb!

Following on from my post that Robin Hobb is in town, I actually went down to the event yesterday, stood in line to get in for way too long, sat around for another couple of hours waiting for her to be where she’d be signing books, stood in line again to get my turn, and then… finally met her in person.

Robin Hobb signing my books

Robin Hobb signing my books.

And it was awesome!

In case you don’t know, Robin Hobb is my favourite author. Reading her Farseer trilogy is what inspired me to begin writing. I’m not normally much of a fan of anything (at least nowhere near the extent of some of the people at the expo – wow, talk about nine kinds of crazy!), but her I had to go and see.

Robin Hobb after signing my books

Yes, she’s as nice as she looks. (The horrible quality of the picture is my fault.)

I wasn’t sure what the limit was for number of books she’d sign, so I brought two bags of books, agonising over which ones I’d leave at home, because I knew I’d kick myself if she was going to sign them all and I’d only brought one or two.

My Robin Hobb books

No, I didn’t take ALL those books to be signed. (But almost – my shoulders are still aching from carrying them all day!)

Signatures galore

Turns out, the limit was three, but luckily, I’d brought along my minion daughter, so between us, we got six of them signed.

Assassin's Apprentice Signature

My signed copy of Assassin’s Apprentice

Blood of Dragons signature

Robin Hobb’s signature on my copy of Blood of Dragons

Fool's Fate Signature

My copy of Fool’s Fate, now signed by Robin Hobb

I must admit I was slightly nervous just before it was my turn to meet her, but she was so down-to-earth and approachable that I found myself relaxing and thanked her for inspiring me to write. With a smile, she asked me how that was going, and I told her that I’d had a short story published but was currently working on the first part of my fantasy trilogy. She was friendly, natural, and encouraging, and seemed like a great person; I wish we’d had more time to chat, but of course I didn’t want to impose (I’m sure she gets enough craziness when she attends those types of events. I know many people say things like “it’s been an absolute pleasure meeting you” without really meaning it, but in this case, it was completely sincere.

Jo Spurrier

While I was there, I also purchased the third book of Jo Spurrier’s Children of the Black Sun trilogy, North Star Guide Me Home and had it signed by Jo Spurrier, who was also amazingly nice.

Jo Spurrier's signature

Jo Spurrier signed my new copy of her latest book

Queues

A staggering number of people lined up to pay stars and starlets between $20 and $50 per signature, and even more for pictures with them. Lots of people attended the cosplay part of the Supanova event, which I have to say didn’t appeal to me at all, but to each their own I suppose.

Celeb queues

People queuing up to see (or be seen with, or photographed with, or have something signed by) celebrities like Ming-Na Wen

More celebrity queues

More celebrity queues… George Lazenby, Richard Kiel, and so on.

Fitz and the Fool

So altogether a great day despite all the waiting and standing in line. I cannot begin to express how much I’m looking forward to reading Robin Hobb’s new book, Fool’s Assassin, due out in August, when Fitz and the Fool make a welcome return to my imagination.

Oh, and I told Robin Hobb that I was hoping that she wouldn’t reveal the Fool’s gender in the new books. In her typical way, her reply was simply, “Well, if he doesn’t tell me…”

So, from me, a heartfelt “Thank you!” to Robin Hobb.

Put some “Leeroy Jenkins!” in your writing

It’s been a long weekend here with Monday being a holiday, and I’ve had some time to indulge in one of my time-wasting fun hobbies, playing Guild Wars 2 (don’t worry, the post is writing-related… I’ll get to that). The guild I’m in is small, but we have our fun, including a spreadsheet shared on Google Docs in which we document all our hilarious (mis-)adventures and references to some gaming-related things we feel everyone in the guild should be aware of.

For those who don’t know the reference, “Leeroy Jenkins!” became an infamous battle cry by a character of the same name in another MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) game, World of Warcraft (which I don’t play but like most people I’ve heard of it). Apparently, his guild was meticulously planning their strategy and setting up their forces out of range of where the one of the harder boss fights in the game would begin when he simply charged into range of the boss, kicking off the battle, and yelling “Leeeeeerooooy Jenkins!” His guild attempted to come to his aid, but all the careful planning was out the window and he got everyone killed.

So what’s the point of my post, and how does it relate to writing, I hear you ask? Well, here it is:

The next time you write a story, I challenge you to introduce a character into it (not the main character, but a side-kick maybe, or the “bad guy”) who adds an element of chaos and unpredictability. The extent of chaos added is up to you, and will of course depend on the genre. But having a “wild character” who doesn’t always act the way someone with more common sense would expect can be both fun and a nice way to direct the action in an unexpected direction (of course it shouldn’t be abused as a deus ex machina plot device, but you get the idea; use within reason). Make sure that character’s motivation is a good fit – is he (I tend to think it would be a “he”, though a “she” could work just as well) deeply troubled, or does he have a twisted sense of humour, or perhaps a social or mental disability? – and plant some seeds for it early on. He could be anything from a “troll” to a “sassy mischief-maker”, from a “compulsive impulsive” to a “common-sensically-challenged dolt”, or from someone who thrives on beating long odds to a plain “tool” – and have fun with it.

Some characters that come to mind in some of my favourite stories who are unpredictable to some extent are the Fool from Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy, and Auri from Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy. Both were very positive characters; a negative example was The Joker from The Dark Knight (brilliantly portrayed by the late Heath Ledger), whose absolute lack of fear and lack of respect for anything arguably made the story much more interesting.

What are your favourite “Leeroy Jenkinses”? Have you ever created characters who cause chaos? Do you think it could be a good idea or is it something you’d rather stay away from?