It was to be expected; more, it was inevitable. After reviewing the two previous multi-novel sequences focused on FitzChivalry and Fool characters, the Farseer Trilogy and the Tawny Man Trilogy, there had to come a review of the newest works by Robin Hobb – the first installment in the Fitz and Fool Trilogy. From the muddy sentence above it would appear that Hobb writes nothing but trilogies; not true. She did write a tetralogy once – the Rain Wilds Chronicles :P.
But let’s get back to the point. The Fitz and Fool Trilogy is a curious phenomenon. Firstly, it hasn’t been finished yet. There are only two books out at the moment, and the second one is only two months old. And it should be in my hands any day now :). Secondly, Robin Hobb abstained from writing it for many, many years, claiming that Fitz’s and Fool’s story was over. She resisted her fandom (certainly, if you have any doubts, read her blog), her publishers (most probably, because they haven’t been pestering her on the blog, so I have no evidence ;)) and probably everybody else. And indeed, the final pages in the Tawny Man Trilogy had the air of an inevitable end, melancholy but ultimately rewarding. But here we are, with two books out and the third in the workings.
I was torn when I heard the news. On one hand, Fitz and Fool are among the most beloved (pun intended) characters I have ever read about. Hobb’s writing was almost never less than impeccable, maybe with the exception of The Soldier’s Son trilogy, but let’s be merciful and not dwell on this one too much. I should by all rights be happy as a clam. But I had my doubts, fueled by Hobb’s over a decade-long refusal and by the ending of The Tawny Man Trilogy, which I felt was complete. I wasn’t at all sure that you can step in the same river twice, especially after such a long break.
Hobb, however, really is a miracle worker. She did manage to step in the same river, not twice, but thrice already. Fool’s Assasin gives us back the Fitz we have known and loved, and a new, changed Fool, whom we might be sorely tried to love again. Fitz is moody, closed, absent-minded and emotional, questioning everything and everyone, forever an assassin at heart – exactly as he should be ;). Fool, however, is deeply, disturbingly altered, and absent for four-fifths of the novel. But we also get Bee, and she is bound to steal a lot of space in the hearts of Hobb’s readers.
We meet Fitz at a time and place of contentment. He is finally allowed the life he dreamed of, the life he was denied for many, many years. He is happy, satisfied, almost serene. Almost, because there are two points of incessant, silent grief in his life: the loss of his two dearest companions, of his brothers in arms and parts of his soul: Nighteyes and the Fool. Nighteyes is dead. The Fool has gone from Fitz’s life unexpectedly and without a word. And this lack of closure keeps Fitz’s emotional wounds from heeling. There will come a time Fool will reappear in Fitz’s life – but to everyone’s surprise, mostly Fitz’s, the reunion might not be as sweet and happy as expected.
I cannot write too much about the plot in fear of unintended spoilers. Suffice to say Fitz is going to suffer again – and again. The Realm of Elderlings is apparently some sort of a private Hell for the Chivalry’s bastard son, designed to bring him pain at every turn. Even the moments of happiness seem to be given to him only to make him suffer more when they end, or when they are turned against him, as a reminder of what he had lost. And, for better or worse, that is precisely what every Fitz’s fan was counting on! 🙂
The counterpoint for all the despair and torment is provided by Bee. She is a great protagonist, seemingly young and malleable, but resilient and mature at the same time. She seems mentally old, maybe even too old at times, but even this is explained in a plausible way. Her point of view is refreshing, strangely complementing Fitz’s perspective, and very engaging. Hobb created her voice beautifully, with just enough subtlety mixed into the quiet arrogance and the feelings of unquestionable rightness that is the blessing and the curse of the youth everywhere.
I was enthralled by this book. I was sucked right in and held in to the end. It was difficult not to swallow the novel whole at one go, even though it’s a hefty book, almost 700 pages long. I did manage to savor it, though – I waited for so many years, I could wait for a few days more. But I not all of my doubts were dispersed, and I was underwhelmed with certain plot solutions. Especially the big surprise of the book, which was entirely predictable, and resulted in making the book’s culminating moment rather anticlimactic. The second reservation I had was about the necessity of making Bee who she is. I mean, of course, the bastard son of the Prince Regent in a highly magical environment is bound to have many adventures, and misadventures, but surely he doesn’t have to have all of them? I know I probably shouldn’t apply probability rules and logic to a fantasy world, and when it rains, it pours, but come on! There’s got to be a limit to it.
Nevertheless, I immensely enjoyed the first installment in the Fitz and Fool Trilogy, and I can’t wait for the next book in the series. Hobb is at her best here, writing in her unique, flawless style and creating intimate, believable psychological portraits even from a few short sketches. She makes you really care for her characters – and it is a laudable feat in the literal tsunami of disposable, short lived protagonists and their ephemeral worlds.