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Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb (#2 in The Fitz and The Fool)

Where do I begin with this second instalment in The Fitz and The Fool Trilogy, Fool’s Quest? It is simply astonishing in its scope (and by that I mean in its ability to draw together, not only the events that occurred in the first novel of this particular series, Fool’s Assassin, but in all the books Hobb has written and through which she builds this incredible, rich and diverse world, with its warring cultures, diversity of faith, magic, dragons, Skill, Wit and three-dimensional, emotionally deep characters and the mayhem that follows in their wake), the quality of the writing, and the way in which the tale itself unfolds, building to heart-stopping, truly riveting and gut-wrenching scenes. Though it’s a very long book – almost 800 pages, I didn’t want to leave this world and felt quite bereft when I finished – and not only because the climax is phenomenal and the cliff-hanger beyond marvellous.

23157777Yes, I am waxing lyrical about this book – about the entire series (including the Rain Wild Chronicles and the Liveship Traders’ books, never mind all the Assassin/Farseer novels) – and deservedly so. This is world-building and writing at its absolute finest and it’s such a treat and privilege to lose yourself in this complex, wonderful and dangerous universe Hobb has painstakingly and lovingly created.

If you haven’t read the first book, read no further because here be spoilers… The first book finished with Fitz being reunited with the Fool who he mistakenly stabs – almost to death – Bee’s kidnapping and the slaughter of innocents at Withywoods – leaving the reader reeling and anxious about Fitz’s daughter’s fate and his ignorance about what has befallen her. When this book opens, we’re at Buckkeep where Fitz, having brought the Fool to the castle in an attempt to get him urgent medical attention, remains unaware of what’s befallen his beloved daughter and staff back at home. Thus, from the moment we begin reading, though we tread the familiar corridors of the castle, learn with horror of what befell the Fool in his absence and enjoy seeing Fitz being recognised for the good and capable man he is (and one seriously flawed, which makes him all the more relatable, special and believable), any pleasure is constantly undermined by our knowledge of what has happened to Bee – knowledge that Fitz does not yet possess. Anxious as to what will happen when he finds out, the heartache and guilt we know will consume him, our awareness and trepidation forms a wonderful yet uncomfortable counterpoint to events at Buckkeep. This is such clever plotting and means Hobb holds not only the emotions of the characters in her hands, but the readers’ as well – and does she pluck at them or what?

Needlesstosay, when Fitz learns of Bee’s fate, he wants to tear the world apart to find her. Only, he doesn’t know who has taken her or why (again, knowledge to which the reader is privy). Forced to wait, gather intelligence and prepare, Fitz is consumed with rage, remorse and so many other negative and conflicting emotions. We live every single one with him and understand why he wavers between stasis and action. We also understand why he resists many of the opportunities to form Wit-bonds offered to him, or even other relationships. If he can’t protect his daughter, he feels he deserves no attachment; he cannot be relied upon – he is a failure of the worst kind – only he’s not, and we know that.

As usual, the person hardest upon Fitz is himself.

And then, of course, he has the Fool to contend with, and all his complex problems and the reawakenings his presence let alone the demands he places on Fitz and promises he extracts demand. Their shared history (and the other bond they share and of which we learn) means they both compliment and distract from each other in fascinating ways.

I don’t want to spoil this book any further expect to say I have barely touched upon what happens. Readers of the series have fallen in love with the principal characters (Fitzchivalry, the Fool, Chade, Kettricken, Verity, Tintaglia etc. etc.) long ago, and this book will only deepen that relationship as our understanding of what makes them tick, insights into their histories are expanded upon and shared with other characters and we see broken fences mended, torn hearts repaired and, of course, new and painful wounds opened and a deadly quest embarked upon.

Segueing between Fitz’s frustration and triumphs, as well as Bee’s journey with the White Folk and Chalcedean mercenaries, the novel is nail-biting, heart-wringing, and page-turning. I cried, laughed, called out a few times (sending my dogs and cats fleeing in fear!) and could barely tear myself away from its pages. I read one review where the reader declared they felt as though they’d been ripped through a Skill-Pillar. I thought what an apt and quite magnificent description.

That I have to wait until 2017 to read the next book is almost unbearable, though I am seriously thinking of reading all Hobb’s books again to assuage my longing – only I’m uncertain I could stand repeating the emotional roller-coaster that forms the heart and soul of these rollicking and amazing tales.

Fool’s Quest is a sublime addition to what’s going to be remembered as one of the finest fantasy collections/worlds/story/characters ever created.

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