Although it was a slow-moving affair that ended with a major cliffhanger, I pretty much loved everything about Robin Hobb's Fool's Assassin, and I was really looking forward to finding out what would happen next. So it was with great pleasure that I sat down to read Fool's Quest when I returned from my trip to Chicago. One word of advice before we go any further into this review, however. If you haven't read The Liveship Traders trilogy and The Rain Wilds Chronicles, you need to do so before you continue reading The Fitz and the Fool trilogy.
Indeed, the storylines from all these series "officially" merge at the end of Fool's Quest. As a result, to prevent the feeling of being left out of the loop and for the ending to make any sort of sense, one must have read Hobb's other series. Other than the Soldier Son trilogy, the author's other series occur in the same universe and have thus always been connected, with events from one having repercussions in the others. And yet, a ton of readers enjoyed The Tawny Man series without having read the Liveship Traders. But that is no longer the case, for the events featured in Fool's Quest are brought to a close in a way that appears to indicate that the final volume will be a tapestry woven of varied threads from all those book sequences. Hence, if you want the ending to make sense, I urge you to read The Liveship Traders and The Rain Wilds Chronicles.
Here's the blurb:
Ranking alongside George R. R. Martin as a groundbreaking master of fantasy, New York Times bestselling author Robin Hobb delivers the second book in her long-awaited Fitz and the Fool trilogy. The harrowing adventures of FitzChivalry Farseer and his enigmatic friend the Fool continue in Robin Hobb’s triumphant follow-up to Fool’s Assassin. But Fool’s Quest is more than just a sequel. With the artistry and imagination her fans have come to expect, Hobb builds masterfully on all that has gone before, revealing devastating secrets and shocking conspiracies that cast a dark shadow over the history of Fitz and his world—a shadow that now stretches to darken all future hope. Long ago, Fitz and the Fool changed the world, bringing back the magic of dragons and securing both the Farseer succession and the stability of the kingdom. Or so they thought. But now the Fool is near death, maimed by mysterious pale-skinned figures whose plans for world domination hinge upon the powers the Fool may share with Fitz’s own daughter. Distracted by the Fool’s perilous health, and swept up against his will in the intrigues of the royal court, Fitz lets down his guard . . . and in a horrible instant, his world is undone and his beloved daughter stolen away by those who would use her as they had once sought to use the Fool—as a weapon. But FitzChivalry Farseer is not without weapons of his own. An ancient magic still lives in his veins. And though he may have let his skills as royal assassin diminish over the years, such things, once learned, are not so easily forgotten. Now enemies and friends alike are about to learn that nothing is more dangerous than a man who has nothing left to lose.
I couldn't put into words just how special and wonderful it was to be reunited with Fitz and all the other old characters in Fool's Assassin. Having waited impatiently for that novel for over a decade, my expectations were extremely high. And yet, for all of my lofty expectations, Fool's Assassin delivered on all fronts. True, there were definite pacing issues throughout the book, but in my opinion Robin Hobb needed to lay a lot of groundwork for the sequels to come. And now that I've reached the end of Fool's Quest, it is evident that the first installment needed to be that vast slow-paced introduction, so the author could get the ball rolling and for the important scenes and the finale to have any sort of emotional impact, not only in Fool's Assassin but in the second volume as well.
Having said that, the pace remains an issue throughout the better part of this work. Probably not as bad in that regard as its predecessor, yet Fool's Quest is another extremely slow-moving tale. I understand that Hobb needed time to portray just how the Fool must heal and how Fitz, no longer a young assassin, must prepare himself for the journey to come. Still, I'm not sure that every single chapter was absolutely necessary, though they do indeed allow reader to follow by increments just how close they were and how close they will become once more. But there's no denying that the sometimes sluggish rhythm might put off some readers.
Mourning his daughter's disappearance, Flitz is afflicted by self-doubt. I really enjoyed how Hobb portrayed him as a heartbroken man who gradually climbs out of the pit of his self-pity and who'll plan his revenge. The same goes for the Fool. Blinded and vulnerable at first, as he heals the Fool will prove to be as crafty and driven as he used to be in the past. Many of their scenes are very emotional and add yet more layers to this convoluted story. Another character who gets more "airtime" is Chade. Like his former apprentice, he's no longer a young man, but having both Chade and Fitz working together brought back so many memories from the first trilogy. As a POV protagonist, Bee doesn't get as many chapters as in the first installment. Which is a bit of a shame, as her role as shaysim is fascinating and I can't wait to discover what the author has in store for her.
No other SFF author writing today possesses Hobb's deft human touch. She can make you laugh and cry at will, often in the same chapter. As I mentioned, there are some powerful scenes featuring Fitz and the Fool. But there are also emotionally charged ones between Fitz and Chade, Fitz and Kettricken, as well as Fitz and his daughter Nettle and her husband Riddle. Some of these scenes are big and far-reaching, while most are small and intimate, but no less important and/or gut-wrenching. Robin Hobb has become a master at this sort of thing and she pulls on readers' heartstrings whenever the mood strikes. Hence, for all that the pace may be slow at times, things are never dull and long-time fans likely won't mind at all.
Not a fan of major cliffhangers in general, I can't say I was pleased to see Fool's Quest end with another such finale. Don't get me wrong. The novel is brought to a close in such a way that I'll be foaming at the mouth and checking my mailbox several times a day as soon as word gets out that the ARCs of the third volume have been sent to reviewers. But I much preferred when Hobb's novels were a bit more self-contained and featured an ending that brought some sort of closure and resolution, however tentative they turned out to be. Still, "officially" merging the Farseer and the Elderlings storylines in such a fashion at the very end opens the door to a great many questions. Will the third installment tie up all the loose ends and pave the way for more adventures in the future? Or will the book somehow be the culmination of all five series? Whatever the case may be, I can't wait to find out!
Some reviewers claim that Fool's Quest is a return to form for various important characters like Fitz, Chade, and the Fool, and that it's also a return to form for Robin Hobb herself. I beg to differ. Other than the pace and the cliffhanger at the end, Fool's Assassin showcased pretty much everything that helped Hobb become a bestselling author. While this second volume does show a bit more character development as far as some fan-favorite protagonists are concerned, it simply builds on all the groundwork set up in its predecessor. And it sets the stage for what should be an unforgettable final installment.