This highly-anticipated publication sees a new instalment in a much-loved fantasy saga begun in 1995 with Assassin’s Apprentice. The story was apparently concluded with Fool’s Fate in 2003, but, unable to keep from writing about the captivating stalwart characters of FitzChivalry Farseer and ‘the Fool’, Robin Hobb grants us a return trip to the Six Duchies.
If you haven’t read any of the previous series, you’ll need a little introduction here to Robin Hobb’s fantasy world; it is a world of political intrigue above all else, of secrets and a magic so subtle that it creeps up on you: not one of wizards and spells, but one of nature and minds. This brief description might remind you of the ubiquitous Game of Thrones – it is similar, and yet so different. These books have a lighter touch, more sophistication, more heart and soul. If you do plan to read the series, I would encourage you to hurry away and read no further into this review, which, although containing no spoilers for Fool’s Assassin, necessarily reveals some about the earlier books.
The main character, Fitz, last appeared in Fool’s Fate, having earned a more than well-deserved break, and having finally settled down with his one true love in the country estate of Withywoods, against all the odds. His part in the fate of the world was played out, and his ‘puppeteer’, the prophet who guided his actions and thus the course of the world, had left for distant shores, promising never to return. How could Robin Hobb unravel such a neat conclusion? Were it not for the confidence that I was in the safe hands of a masterful storyteller, were it not for the excitement of having an unexpected continuation of this saga, I would have been frustrated by this coda to Fitz’s life. But as the reader soon discovers, this is no after-thought, no coda at all. Fitz’s trials and tribulations aren’t done yet, and Hobb left enough loose ties to pick them up and carry on as if the previous conclusion were nothing at all. Yet the false ending of Fool’s Fate is cleverly navigated: Fitz expresses shock at the story not yet being over, having repeatedly asserted that his part in affairs of state is long concluded, and he is not the only person to do so.
This is part of the inherent beauty of Hobb’s saga – especially the parts set in the Six Duchies (the ‘Farseer trilogy’, and the ‘Tawny Man’ trilogy), narrated by FitzChivalry. He struggles to be an impartial narrator, attempts to set facts down accurately, yet imbues every page with his own opinions and emotions. He is writing his story, whether he intends to or not, and his own false sense of security is enough to explain to the reader why not all is as it seems. The Six Duchies, and the wider world, still has a future which lies in the balance. Fitz ignores the danger signs, convinced that all threats are long gone. Should we trust his instincts? Not quite – it is the mark of true literary skill when authors manage to write convincingly from a character’s point of view and yet leave enough room for the reader to see more than the narrator (see my review of Daphne du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel). Turbulent times are clearly ahead for Fitz – whether he believes it or not, whether he is prepared for it or not.
Overall, Fool’s Assassin is a very welcome addition to Robin Hobb’s opus of work, and while it forms the beginning of the third trilogy/series about FitzChivalry and the Fool, it is in fact the fourteenth novel set in this fantasy world. Naturally, to get the most enjoyment from reading Hobb’s work, I recommend starting at the beginning and continuing in order of publication (that is; ‘Farseer’, ‘Liveship Traders’, ‘Tawny Man’, ‘Rain Wilds Chronicles’, and now this new ‘Fitz and the Fool’ series) to fully understand – at least, as much as Hobb permits us to understand – the world and characters she has so expertly created and nurtured.