Saturday, 20 May 2017

Assassin's Fate (Fitz & the Fool #3), Robin Hobb

"Don't doubt us, or we are lost."
"Fitz, my love, that is the problem. I do not doubt Bee's dreams at all" 

Prince FitzChivalry Farseer’s daughter Bee was violently abducted from Withywoods by Servants of the Four in their search for the Unexpected Son, foretold to wield great power. With Fitz in pursuit, the Servants fled through a Skill-pillar, leaving no trace. It seems certain that they and their young hostage have perished in the Skill-river.

Clerres, where White Prophets were trained by the Servants to set the world on a better path, has been corrupted by greed. Fitz is determined to reach the city and take vengeance on the Four, not only for the loss of Bee but also for their torture of the Fool. Accompanied by FitzVigilant, son of the assassin Chade, Chade’s protégé Spark and the stableboy Perseverance, Bee's only friend, their journey will take them from the Elderling city of Kelsingra, down the perilous Rain Wild River, and on to the Pirate Isles.

Their mission for revenge will become a voyage of discovery, as well as of reunions, transformations and heartrending shocks. Startling answers to old mysteries are revealed. What became of the liveships Paragon and Vivacia and their crews? What is the origin of the Others and their eerie beach? How are liveships and dragons connected?

*this review contains mild spoilers for all previous Robin Hobb books*

* * * * *
5 / 5

I don't really have the words to say how much this series, these books, these characters have meant to me. But I will, nevertheless, try my best. I read Assassin's Apprentice when I was thirteen years old, and I genuinely believe that it changed my life, so when Robin Hobb announced that she would be writing the Fitz & the Fool trilogy a few years back, I was absolutely delighted. Whilst I enjoyed Fool's Assassin and Fool's Quest, they pale next to this stunning conclusion. Mostly, this is a result of a clear plot direction and the reunion of FitzChivalry and Beloved.   

I whispered the words to myself. "I don't do this for the world. I do it for myself." Quietly I rose and left him the table and the brandy

To appreciate this masterpiece, I truly think one must read all of Robin Hobb's other Realm of the Elderlings works first: not only the Farseer trilogy and the Tawny Man trilogy, but also the Liveship Traders and the Rain Wild Chronicles. You can pass on the Soldier Son books. Assassin's Fate brings together all these wonderful strands from those series: Paragon, the liveship The Pariah, the mad ship, to Malta and Reyn and Tintaglia and the Bingtown traiders and Wintrow and Althea and Boy-O and Kennitson and Heeby and Amber. Then there is Verity and Shrewd and Kettricken and Nighteyes and Chade, remembered through memories and given fitting endings. There are far too many elements to name and Hobb brings them all together in this book. Read the others first, not only to stop yourself being spoiled, but so that you can savour Assassin's Fate and all it's references.

It is impossible too, to underestimate the span of the Realm of the Elderlings books. I have watched and read and, in some peculiar way, lived the lives of five generations of Farseer; I have followed the life of Fitzchivalry Farseer for over fifty years and thousands upon thousands of pages. From Shrewd and Chade, to Verity and Regal and Chivalry, to FitzChivalry, to Bee and Nettle and Hap and Chivalry (again), to Nettle's daughter Hope. From Kettricken, child princess of the Mountain Kingdom to elderly Queen who still cannot tell Fitz that she loves him. These books are cyclic in a way. Not only do Fitz and the Fool do their strange dance of using each other, of trusting and betraying and loving each other, all the way to the bitter end, but we see young and wild princes mature (Fitz, Dutiful, Kennitson), themes of naming and identity (Ash/Spark, FitzVigilant/Lantern/Lant, Fool/Amber/Lord Golden/Lord Chance/Beloved), duty, love and loss explored over and over.

"But the world spins on and there is a destined path. You can only tip it so far before it rights itself! It's all inevitable now. I see, but you refuse to look"

We pick up the plot with Bee kidnapped by Dwalia and the Servants of the White, dragged through a Skill-pillar and thought to be dead and lost by FitzChivalry. Bee's tale is a sad one. Ten years old and small and pale, she is thought to be The Unexpected Son by Dwalia and Vindeliar and so is dragged to Clerres, the White Island. Upon Clerres, nothing is as it ought to be. Where once there was one White Prophet for each lifetimes, now they breed Whites and half-Whites for the sole purpose of harvesting their dreams in order manipulate the future into making them richer and richer. Clerres is rule by the Four, who tortured the Fool and Prilkop when they returned there after Aslevjal. Meanwhile, Fitz, the Fool, Perseverance (a stable boy at Withywoods), Spark (the Fool's serving girl and Chade's apprentice), and Lant (Chade's bastard child) begin a quest to Clerres to cease the rule of the Four and claim vengeance for Bee. They are supported in this aim by Tintaglia, the dragon, who recalls some outrageous grievance against the dragons by Clerres.

The pace of this book is, like the other two Fitz & The Fool books, slow. It is leisurely. We meander between Bee and Fitz and, whilst my love for Bee Farseer has grown exponentially since she first appeared, I still prefer Fitz's chapters. Not only are those the ones with the dragons and the Rain Wilds and the liveships, but I also love him and Beloved far more than I could ever love Bee (sorry, Bee). Whilst there is plenty of action and it is wonderful to see an older (I think he is somewhere between sixty and sixty five) Fitz take up again the role of the assassin, this is a long and weighty book. The writing itself is the same style Hobb has always used, hopefully you know by now whether you like it or not! Personally, I think her first person style is excellent, and I went highlighter crazy all over my copy. I like to pepper my review with quotes, mostly to break it up and give people a sense of how an author writes, and I had a lot of excellent quotes to choose from.

My fate was here and only I could shape it. It stole my breath away. And as I gazed, I felt my heart lift, just as the minstrels described it could happen. I was here and the great work of my life was before me

The characters all have great development, Bee in particular. I found her a bit whiny is Fool's Assassin, but here she really comes into her own. I was reminded a bit of Nona in Mark Lawrence's book Red Sister; Bee is ten but has learned from Wolf-Father (Nighteyes) how to be a predator. How to make her prey afraid of her. How to rip out chunks from grown men and where to stick a knife. Yet she retains that strong love for her mother and father whilst she begins to explore what it means to be a White, to see the paths of the future spreading out before her. I definitely grew to adore Bee. On the other half of the storyline, whilst there is a little less page time devoted to Lant and Spark than there has been previously and virtually no appearance of Shun, Perseverance is a delight to read about. He flourishes in life aboard a liveship, but struggles with the loss of his normal life at Withywoods.

But, obviously, the real interest here is the interactions between Fitz and the Fool and his myriad of masks. The Fool spends a lot of time as Amber, the woman who took up residence in Bingtown as a wood carver, a lady who Fitz doesn't particularly like or trust. Their interactions have matured, these are not two young boys anymore, yet we still see the past in them. There are still hints of the Fitz who stormed the corridors of Buckkeep, raging because Lord Golden had insinuated that people thought they were lovers. But no more does Fitz balk at the name Beloved. A particularly wonderful moment is when Fitz meets Paragon, the liveship carved in his likeness, and Paragon is not pleased.

"Walk away," Amber said in a small deadly voice. "Walk away, Fitz. From things you don't want to hear. Things you don't want to feel. Things you don't want to know"

Fitz himself is growing old, tired under the weight of yet another quest but still burning with anger at the supposed death of his daughter. This one last time he packs his pockets with poisons and bears his axe to his own personal war. He aches with the loss of Withywoods, the life he thought he had finally settled down in. He is vicious and angry and so very tired of war and prophecies and loss and the Skill. To write such a believable character, to develop him from a small child to an older man is an incredible feat of writing, I think. I can see in this old Fitz the boy I admired when I was thirteen, the boy who ran half wild with a pack of children in the docks of Buckkeep town, stealing sausages and running with Smithy. I admit, my heart warmed a little every time he was casually addressed as Prince FitzChivalry; I recall reading the Tawny Man series for the first time and wanting to chuck Prince Dutiful off the tower, every time he referred to Fitz as "peasant Badgerlock" or some nonsense. "Don't you see?" I wanted to shake the annoying Dutiful by the shoulders, "Don't you see how much this man has given, how much he has lost? This is FitzChivalry Farseer, the man who has given everything for a crown he can never have." 

Hobb has written old, weary Fitz wonderfully and given him the most perfect ending I could have wished for. Good god. The ending. I knew it was going to happen and yet it was still so sorrowful and poignant and perfectly fitting. I shan't spoil it and will only say that I honestly think that there was no better conclusion. My only complaint is that it is so final, that there is little chance of a continuation. Though if Hobb wrote any more, I would devour it in a heartbeat.

"Don't go where I can't follow you. Don't leave me behind."

I have written a long rambling review, yet don't feel that I have written enough. Assassin's Fate made me laugh and cry and remember the earlier books with such fondness that the moment I turned the final page I wanted to pick up Assassin's Apprentice and read all of them all over again. If anyone reading this review has not read Assassin's Apprentice, then for the love of god go and read it! Assassin's Fate is the culmination of a tale that is fantasy fiction as it ought to be written. 

My thanks to Netgalley, the publisher, and the author for an ARC of this book. I cannot thank them enough. 

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