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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Book Review: Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb

Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb, was described by George R. R. Martin as “fantasy as it ought to be written.” Until I read the novel, I didn’t really know quite what Martin meant, Fool's Assassin (The Fitz and The Fool Trilogy, #1)but having devoured this next episode in The Fitz and The Fool fables, I understand. This is a simply sublime book that takes the reader on an incredible emotional and psychological journey into family, love, paternity, childhood, and the difficulties of raising a child who’s deemed “different” and the immense suffering that comes with great love and loss.

This novel reintroduces Fitz, the unwilling assassin, gifted with both The Wit and The Skill, the man who’s described as The Fool’s Catalyst and a power to be reckoned with in his own right. It also plunges readers back into the hauntingly beautiful and wonderfully imagined wider world Hobb has crafted over so many books and of which Fitz is an integral part.  Now a middle-aged landholder, who goes by the name of Tom Badgerlock, Fitz is living a contented existence. Hiding in the counties, happy to live out his final years with his beloved wife Molly, he resists and resents the occasional call of the Farseer rulers and his former mentor, Chade.

One cold, Winterfest night, a pale messenger seeks out Fitz. With the house of full of guests and strangers and as host, Fitz is much distracted. Too busy to see her, he sends a request she waits till morning. When she vanishes in a trail of blood before she can deliver her message, it’s a decision he lives to regret. Trying to put his perturbation behind him, Fitz cannot dismiss the messenger’s presence let alone disappearance entirely. What happened to her and what did she want? More importantly, who sent her?

Years pass and it’s not till a miracle happens in Fitz’s and Molly’s life and a series of events follow that do not augur well, that the night of the messenger comes back to haunt Fitz.

On the footsteps of great joy, tragedy must follow but it’s not until someone from Fitz’s past reappears in dire need that the king’s former assassin knows his life and that of all those he loves will never be the same again.

I really cannot say too much more without risking spoiling what is an incredible, heart-wrenching, moving, joyous, tragic and simply astonishingly beautiful tale. There is a raw honesty and truth in every page, every word that lingers long after you close the novel for the night. I found the story and those populating it were at the back of my mind most days. When I finished the book, I wanted to discuss it with my friends, not only to shed light on the characters and their choices, but so I didn’t have to leave Fitz’s world.

Each and every character in this tale is so real and raw – whether it’s a servant in the house, a distant relative, an unwelcome guest or a member of the immediate family. You live and breath each moment with them as their thoughts and thus hearts, souls and minds are laid bare. I think this is what made the book so utterly special and unputdownable. I made excuses not to work but to return to the novel over and over and felt so lost when I finished it.

The hardest thing of all is knowing how long I have to wait to read the next instalment in the series…

This isn’t just fantasy at its best – this is writing at its very finest. A story to be treasured and savoured.

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Blood of Dragons by Robin Hobb

The final book in The Rain Wild Chronicles, Blood of Dragons, concludes the epic journey of the dragons and their keepers and reveals the fates of some of the major characters whom we’ve grown to know, love and loathe over the course of four novels.

The future of Kelsingra hangs in the balance and with it, that of the newly formed Elderlings and their dragons. Mining the memories of the Elderlings past from the stone in the ancient city, it becomes apparent that only one thing can guarantee the dragons and their keepers have a future – a precious resource upon which everyone’s survival depends. But as time passes, the reasonBlood of Dragons (The Rain Wild Chronicles, #4)s Kelsingra was abandoned and the dragons nearly died out becomes apparent and hope for finding this resource swiftly fades.

Close to home, treachery is afoot as certain Bingtown Traders make plans to descend on Kelsingra with a view to exploiting the wealth they believe litters the magical streets. In exotic and deadly Chalced, plots stir as the ruler formulates great plans for his survival, something that’s contingent upon dragon sacrifice and more.

The world Hobb has created here – one begun a long time ago with the Assassin’s Apprentice series, where the Rain Wilds are eluded to before being more fleshed out in the Liveship Traders series – is a beautiful haunting and dangerous place. Acid waters, rainforests and tree-dwellers, physical deformities, living ships that bond with their owners, never mind inept, narcissistic and deadly dragons as well as abused and abusive spouses all populate this magnificent and bleak world. The central characters are brought to life over the course of four books and, like the dragons who play such a pivotal role in their lives, slowly emerge from their cocoons to spread their wings and shine brightly when they’re needed or have the justice they’ve stealthily evaded forced upon them.

While some parts of the tale appear slightly rushed or brushed over (eg, the final battle over Chalced) others were given the time they deserved and the characters at the heart were satisfyingly completed. You know that’s the case when you can imagine them living beyond the last page and, as I closed the book, I could see such potential for the wondrous city of Kelsingra and the people who, along with the triumphant dragons, have chosen to call it home.

A fitting and delightful end to a complicated, sometimes slow-moving but, I felt, always gripping tale of survival, memory, power struggles and triumph against extraordinary odds. And dragons. We cannot forget the beautiful dragons.

 

 

 

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