Robin Hobb, Fool’s Assassin (Del Rey, 2014)
full disclosure: a copy of this book was provided to me free of charge by Amazon Vine.
Poor Fitz. The guy can’t catch a break. Even in Fool’s Fate, the only book where it seemed Robin Hobb might let her long-suffering main character off the hook and give him a happy ending, she had to twist the knife a time or two. And after that one, we all thought we had seen the end of FitzChivalry Farseer, Lord Chade, Kettricken, Dutiful, Molly, and the entire bunch (those who survived six books of an author almost as bloodthirtsy as George R. R. Martin, anyway). Hobb whisked us away to other lands for two series, but she just couldn’t leave well enough alone, and here we are, years later, for the opener in a new series about the staunchest allies in the Six Duchies, Fitz—now known as Tom Badgerlock—and The Fool, who wryly observes at one point, “No longer Lord Golden…but still a fool.”
The weakest part of the book, as is common with Hobb’s series, is the opening bit. She tires to jam way too much into those first fifty pages—thirty years’ worth, in fact. We get a kind of montage of Fitz and Molly’s marriage that ends up being jerky and staticky, like trying to watch the first ten minutes of Up on a 7” black-and-white TV set back in the pre-cable days when your house was just outside your local UHF station’s broadcast area. (If you read that sentence and didn’t need to look anything up to understand it, congratulations. You’re old.) The other problem with this approach, aside from it being a tough read, is that it highlights the fact that everything that happens in those scenes is IMPORTANT to the following story. However, if you’ve read Hobb before—and if you haven’t, you should at your earliest convenience—you also know that once she settles into her rhythm, her books take flight like pissed-off dragons. It would be a major spoiler to tell you what the crux is, but once you get there, you will know it. And from there, you’re back in that world that we all know and love, or should.
It feels like cheating to say “if you like Robin Hobb, you’re going to like this” and mean it as a compliment. After all, such a statement carries the (accurate) undertone that the author isn’t really doing anything new here, but that’s not as bad a thing as it could be. But we’re coming up on twenty years in the same world (with one break, and I still consider that arguable—until it is shown to me on a map not to be the case, I will continue to put forth my hypothesis that the Soldier Son trilogy took place on the other half of the continent, over the western mountains), and we’re back with characters we’ve been reading about since 1995. Fitz is still making terrible decisions for stupid reasons. You’d think it would get old after a while, but somehow it doesn’t. He keeps having different stupid reasons; Hobb is a master at making “it seemed like a good idea at the time” really seem like a good idea, even when you know (because it’s Fitz, and therefore…) it’s going to turn disastrous. And by the time you’ve made it through these six hundred pages, you know that once again, Fitz and whatever band of companions he has gathered to himself will be off on yet another quest to save the Six Duchies, and, if you’re reading this relatively soon after its release, you will be stuck salivating for another year until you get the next installment. Hobb fulfills every last expectation here, both the good and the not-so-good, and as usual, I can’t wait for book two. *** ½