I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Fool's Assassin Series: The Fitz and The Fool Trilogy #1
on Agust 12 2014
Tom Badgerlock has been living peaceably in the manor house at Withywoods with his beloved wife Molly these many years, the estate a reward to his family for loyal service to the crown. But behind the facade of respectable middle-age lies a turbulent and violent past. For Tom Badgerlock is actually FitzChivalry Farseer, bastard scion of the Farseer line, convicted user of Beast-magic, and assassin. A man who has risked much for his king and lost more.
On a shelf in his den sits a triptych carved in memory stone of a man, a wolf and a fool. Once, these three were inseparable friends: Fitz, Nighteyes and the Fool. But one is long dead, and one long-missing. Then one Winterfest night a messenger arrives to seek out Fitz, but mysteriously disappears, leaving nothing but a blood-trail. What was the message? Who was the sender? And what has happened to the messenger? Suddenly Fitz's violent old life erupts into the peace of his new world, and nothing and no one is safe.
To say I was excited about Fool’s Assassin would be a complete understatement. I have been a massive fan of Robin Hobb’s The Realm of the Elderlings saga for years. It is my favourite fantasy series and Fitz and The Fool are two characters very dear to my heart. I felt heartbroken at the ending of Fool’s Fate – I couldn’t believe after journeying through so many ups and downs with these beloved characters that it was truly over. Luckily for me, and many others, Robin Hobb has decided that there is another tale in these characters after all – and I am ecstatically happy about this fortunate turn of events.
First though, a little bit of background for those who may be new to the series. The Realm of the Elderlings series began with Assassin’s Apprentice – a story about a royal bastard who becomes an assassin for the crown. This young lad is FitzChivalry Farseer – the illegitimate child of a king-in-waiting. His father stands down as heir to the kingdom of the Six Duchies when Fitz is discovered, in part due to the shame of having a bastard son but also ultimately to protect Fitz from those who may wish him harm.
The first book chronicles Fitz’s life from boy to young man. He leads a solitary existence until happenstance finds him attracting the attention of King Shrewd (his grandfather). It is at this point his life is thrust into a whirlwind of intrigue and danger. He is taken under the wing of Chade Fallstar – an aged man who works in secret for the kingdom as a spy and an assassin.
Fitz also attracts the attention of the King’s Fool – a pale-skinned young man whose mysterious and cryptic warnings help Fitz to assimilate into his new role. These two characters develop a deep and abiding bond – one which will carry them through many years of adventures and tragedy.
Fool’s Assassin had a lot to live up to. I would not be exaggerating when I say that this is my favourite fantasy world ever. I grew up with these characters – they feel like a part of me. I was devastated by the end of the last trilogy and wished fervently that Robin Hobb would write another series from the perspective of Fitz, to give me some measure of closure which I felt was lacking at the end of the Tawny Man trilogy.
Don’t get me wrong – the Tawny Man is my favourite part of the series but the ending actually made me feel depressed for weeks, months even. I gained some perspective later and realised that it was the only possible ending that made sense but that didn’t stop me bemoaning the fact that my two favourite characters were separated – possibly forever.
I think I literally danced around my living room in excitement when this new trilogy was announced – and I nearly went through the ceiling when I was approved for an ARC!
I am not going to recap the entire blurb for this, suffice it to say the premise really intrigued me right from the start. Fitz is finally living the life he always dreamed of having. He has married his childhood sweetheart Molly, he has a relationship with his daughter Nettle (albeit one that is a little strained) and his many step-sons to keep him on his toes. Running the estate at Withywoods keeps him occupied and he is happy to finally get a reprieve from his prior life – one that was inextricably intertwined with the Farseer court.
Yet there is still a vital part that is missing. After their parting at the end of the last book, Fitz still misses his closest friend. He is content with his comfortable life but there is still a part of him that hearkens back to his time with the Fool. He yearns for word from his friend and searches for signs that The Fool may have been trying to contact him.
Yet, when that contact finally comes, Fitz is oblivious. A messenger comes to Withywoods during a celebratory festival with urgent news but then disappears without a trace before delivering the message. Fitz tries to investigate this strange occurence but is soon distracted by other matters. This will eventually haunt him when he realises his error…
Now for the vital question – did this instalment live up to my sky-high expectations? Yes – a thousand times over! Was it perfect? No – but it was pretty damn close! I do not want to discuss too many elements about the plot (I really do not want to give away anything that would spoil other readers) but I really loved the story and thought it was just an almost perfect beginning to what will (hopefully) be another epic instalment about Fitz and The Fool.
It is quite a slow-burning read though. Nothing happens quickly and the pace is almost glacial at times. This may disappoint some readers but I thought it was quite fitting at this juncture in the characters lives. Fitz may appear youthful due to the skill-healing that was done on him many years before, but he is a man entering the beginning of his twilight years (or at least late middle-age). He is settling down and trying to finally make a life for himself and I think that the tone and pace reflected that very nicely.
That is not to say that this book lacked any excitement or did not contain any twists in the tale but it really showed Fitz coming to terms with his new, more peaceful, life and it was nice to finally see him get a break for once (even if it was without my beloved Fool). There is a lot of build-up though which could be frustrating for some readers. The pace only really picks up in the last quarter of the book where it hurtles to a heart-stopping conclusion which definitely left me wanting more.
This was definitely more character-focussed than previous entries. We see a lot of Fitz and Molly (who I finally warmed up to!) and also, to a lesser degree, Nettle, Kettricken, Dutiful and other returning characters. There are also a few new faces that were definitely intriguing and one particular character who I think may be a new favourite of mine (really do not want to give anymore away than that).
Fitz is still very much…well, Fitz. He is lovable and frustrating all at the same time. Fitz is one of my favourite literary characters but he does make me want to tear my hair out at times. He is smart (very smart actually) but can also be very dense. This often proves to be his undoing, as it did in this book.
There were certain things that happened in the plot that he really should have seen coming and it was doubly frustrating to witness this. Yet, without that flaw to his character, he just wouldn’t be Fitz. I guess what I am trying to say here is that I love him as he is – warts and all. It is his fallibility which makes him such an interesting protagonist and I am always going to root for him regardless.
The Fool is still perfection in my eyes. It doesn’t matter how far he has fallen – he is still my beloved Fool. I am always left with the feeling of wanting more; more of his back story, his thoughts, his fears…yet it is the mystery that surrounds him that also defines him as a character. I cannot adequately convey my love for this elusive man (?). He will always be my favourite literary character – no one else even comes close.
Fool’s Assassin is another masterful entry in The Realm of the Elderlings series. Robin Hobb displays her usual wonderful prose and gives life to characters in a way that makes them feel so vibrantly and wonderfully real. In the ten years since the last trilogy ended, I have only become more entranced with this world. I am just so very happy to have yet adventure with both The Fool and Fitz. It is like being reunited with old friends and although the circumstances appear dire, I hope for a happy resolution for them. It is going to be a long wait for the next book!
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