It's been almost a decade since Robin Hobb published Fool's Fate. Nearly a decade since we last read about Fitz and the Fool. And every time the author released a new work, fans were keeping their fingers crossed that it would be a new adventure featuring Hobb's beloved characters. But it was not to be. . .
Until last fall, that is, when a video showing Hobb's latest manuscript was "leaked" and it was announced that Fool's Assassin would be the first installment in a new trilogy featuring both Fitz and the Fool. Like many, I jumped for joy and counted the days until I could get my hands on this book. After spending a month in the Middle East, I returned home to about twenty packages waiting for me at the post office. And when I discovered that one of them contained an ARC of Fool's Assassin, I shamelessly did a little happy dance! The wait was finally over!
Here's the blurb:
Nearly twenty years ago, Robin Hobb burst upon the fantasy scene with the first of her acclaimed Farseer novels, Assassin’s Apprentice, which introduced the characters of FitzChivalry Farseer and his uncanny friend the Fool. A watershed moment in modern fantasy, this novel—and those that followed—broke exciting new ground in a beloved genre. Together with George R. R. Martin, Robin Hobb helped pave the way for such talented new voices as Scott Lynch, Brandon Sanderson, and Naomi Novik. Over the years, Hobb’s imagination has soared throughout the mythic lands of the Six Duchies in such bestselling series as the Liveship Traders Trilogy and the Rain Wilds Chronicles. But no matter how far she roamed, her heart always remained with Fitz. And now, at last, she has come home, with an astonishing new novel that opens a dark and gripping chapter in the Farseer saga. FitzChivalry—royal bastard and former king’s assassin—has left his life of intrigue behind. As far as the rest of the world knows, FitzChivalry Farseer is dead and buried. Masquerading as Tom Badgerlock, Fitz is now married to his childhood sweetheart, Molly, and leading the quiet life of a country squire. Though Fitz is haunted by the disappearance of the Fool, who did so much to shape Fitz into the man he has become, such private hurts are put aside in the business of daily life, at least until the appearance of menacing, pale-skinned strangers casts a sinister shadow over Fitz’s past . . . and his future. Now, to protect his new life, the former assassin must once again take up his old one. . .
I can't possibly put into words just how special and wonderful it was to be reunited with Fitz and all the other old characters making appearances in Fool's Assassin again. But that could have become a problem, as my expectations were extremely high. Fans have been eagerly awaiting this novel for about a decade, so understandably it has lofty expectations to meet. And for the most part, though the pace will likely be an issue for some readers, Fool's Assassin delivers on all fronts.
It is a somewhat vast introduction that sets the stage and paves the way for many things to come. More so than any other first volume ever written by Robin Hobb, methinks. Other reviewers opined/complained that nothing much happens during a big portion of the book. And yet, the way everything comes together at the end made me realize that the pace needed to be what it was in order for Hobb to get the ball rolling and for the important scenes and the finale to have any sort of emotional impact. One would think that Fitz, now a fifty-something man trying to avoid the court intrigue of Buckkeep, has earned a bit of respite and some much-deserved happiness. But knowing Robin Hobb, we all knew it wasn't meant to be. . .
The better part of Fool's Assassin takes place in and around Withywoods, where Fitz, posing as a Holder, is now living his twilight years with his wife Molly. I know that it's not everyone's cup of tea, but for me getting another chance to read Fitz's first-person narrative was great. One of the things I love the most about Robin Hobb is that her characters always remain true to themselves. Hence, in his late forties at the beginning of the novel, Fitz grew up and became exactly the kind of middle-aged man that a person with his background and traumatic experiences should be. Finally, he lives happily with the woman who was his first love. But all is not peaches and cream. Due to the Skill-healing he underwent as a younger man, Fitz doesn't age as rapidly as regular people. Though he approaches the age of fifty, he looks like a man in his mid-thirties. And looking at his beloved Molly growing older, though it kills him, he is aware that she will one day die and he'll find himself all alone again. As nice as it is to be reunited with Fitz and Molly again, it was with equal pleasure that I read about Chade, Patience, Kettricken, Nettle, Dutiful, and Riddle. And as much as Fitz wants to leave his old life behind, as a Farseer he will always be called upon if there is need. And when a strange messenger reaches Withywoods and delivers the news that the Fool might be in mortal danger, duty demands that Fitz try to help his old companion, even if he doesn't even know where to begin his search.
This is an advance review and I want it to remain spoiler-free, so there is not much I can reveal as far as the storylines are concerned. There are a number of unexpected surprises in Fool's Assassin. The biggest has to do with the addition of a new POV protagonist, and no it's not the Fool. The appearance of this new character will turn everything upside down. This could well be the most shocking surprise so far in the Farseer saga. And to have, down the line, a new first-person narrative featuring that person creates a brand new vibe and tone. Used to witness events only through Fitz's eyes, the addition of a point of view creates a new balance in the plotlines in the second portion of the novel. The unanticipated appearance of this new character will raise even more questions (there are hints that a fan-favorite character may not be as dead as we believed), and it will be interesting to see if we'll have those two POVs for the entire series. The manner in which Fool's Assassin is brought to a close appears to indicate that this will be the case.
As mentioned, the pace is extremely slow. While it is true that not much occurs in the first half of the novel, it was nevertheless a joy to be reunited with Fitz and the others. Felt kind of like being reunited with old friends or relatives you haven't seen in a long, long time. And as I explained above, though the rhythm moves at a snail's pace for about 75% of the book, I doubt that long-time fans will mind a whole lot. Especially since everything pretty much serves to pave the way for what will take place in the two upcoming sequels. Poor Fitz. . . You'd think that he has earned some happiness, that fate can't possibly get worse for him. But no. He suffered a lot in the first two series and he suffers again in Fool's Assassin. You have to wonder if the poor guy will ever be happy and live a normal life this side of death. And although he has been hoping that his life as an assassin was left behind when he and the Fool parted ways over a decade before, by the end of the book Fitz realizes that the darkest time of his life has just begun.
One thing that even long-time fans might find off-putting is the fact that the novel ends in a major cliffhanger. I'm talking about a Jon Snow in GRRM's A Dance With Dragons kind of cliffhanger. To have Fool's Assassin end on such a note was kind of frustrating, no question. And yet, it's the sort of cliffhanger that will have everyone lining up to get their hands on volume 2 as soon as it becomes available. Today, I'm happy that Robin Hobb has been able to maintain a rhythm of a book a year throughout most of her career, because I can't wait to discover what will happen next. God knows that both The Farseer and The Tawny Man series were often dark tales, and it seems that this new trilogy will be darker still.
I don't think that there is another SFF author writing today which possesses Hobb's deft human touch. She can still make you laugh and cry at will, sometimes in the same chapter. Once more, she makes Fitz go through hell and you can't help but root for the guy. Some scenes have such a powerful emotional impact that they are gut-wrenching. All in all, more or less the same as with the first two Farseer trilogies. We first met Fitz as a youngster and now we follow him as a middle-aged man. And still, though he means well and is not always the sharpest tool in the shed, his tale captures our hearts and we are swept along.
I know it's not breaking news, but Robin Hobb is brilliant! Fool's Assassin's is definitely one of the fantasy novels to read this year.