**CONTAINS SPOILER REFERENCES**
Verdict: High quality fantasy that feels like catching up with an old friend. Albeit a sometimes remarkably stupid old friend who frustrates you to the point of throttling him.
So, unless you pay no attention to me at all, you might have gathered that Robin Hobb is my Favourite Author of All Time. That’s a pretty heavy mantle to wear because, as the saying goes, the bigger they are, the harder they fall. When I open a Robin Hobb book, I expect epic. I demand epic and, if I don’t get it, I’m probably going to throw my toys out of the pram. It’s not really Hobb’s fault, either, because I basically think she’s the best person to ever hold a pen. It’s a lot to live up to.
Fortunately, Fool’s Quest delivers on the vast majority of my expectations. Penned with exquisite care, it continues the story of FitzChivalry Farseer and the Fool, a.k.a. Lord Golden, a.k.a. Amber, a.k.a. Mage Grey, a.k.a. Beloved. It picks up where Fool’s Assassin ended, with little Bee stolen by the Whites of Clerres, Withywoods in an absolute wreck, the Fool stabbed but healing behind the walls of Buckkeep Castle, and poor Fitz caught up in a tangled web of bad decisions and worse choices yet again.
Things are slow to start, as Fitz doesn’t know his daughter has been snatched by Dwalia and her Whites, who think that Bee is the Unexpected Son. When that revelation finally occurs, things begin to canter and then slow down again as Fitz tries to track her down, meanwhile maintaining a respectable appearance in Buckkeep Castle because something massive and amazing just happened that means he can’t race off and kill people in public anymore (spoilers that I won’t share).
Meanwhile, Fool is recovering in Chade’s old spy-warren and is urging Fitz to travel to Clerres with him to seek vengeance for the torture the Servants of Clerres put him through. Of all these tortures, which had me feeling at varying times sickened, dismayed, and horrified, it was a certain incident to do with a make-shift glove that had me coursing with Violent Rage.
When Fitz does decide to go to Clerres, after another revelation about a certain journey through a stone pillar, he quite logically asserts that the Fool, weak as he is, cannot go with him. The Fool is furious about this and, as we all know by now, when the Fool wants to do something, he will find a way to do it, so Fitz’s attempt at leaving him in Buckkeep is an inevitable failure.
What is more unexpected is that what started as a solo mission becomes a journey for more than the predictable two people, Fitz and the Fool. Not only that, but events lead the small group to Kelsingra, City of Dragons and home to my favourite royal couple, Malta and Reyn Khuprus. Unfortunately, mistakes have already been made, involving the Skill and two accounts of dragon-related theft, and it seems like Fitz and the Fool might be delayed on their journey towards vengeance…
The Realm of the Elderlings is a series that has captured my heart and imagination since I first picked up The Liveship Traders, and Fool’s Quest is a welcome addition to that saga. I’ve come to know Fitz and the Fool so well now that a novel with them is like going on a journey with friends, and that is a wonderful feeling to have when reading a book. This is a book about more than just a search for a missing daughter; every character in this series is fully-fleshed and possessing their own wants, needs and flaws. A wonderful addition to the fold is Ash, also named Spark, and I loved the parallels drawn with her friendship with Withywoods’ Perseverance and that of our main protagonists, Fitz and the Fool. Bee, the pleasant surprise of Fool’s Assassin, continues in an endearing and intriguing vein in this book and I’m very eager to see what the third installment brings to the story. I am, again, marvelling at the scope of Hobb’s creation, and the depth of her characters, world history and interwoven plot points.
The only faults I found in this particular book were actually character-related, however. Although the plot was arguably slow at some points, I believe this was purposefully – certainly, the age Fitz spent cooped up in Buckkeep Castle when all he wanted was to tear after his stolen child inspired the very same infuriation in me as a reader that it did in Fitz himself. I saw that as a strength, that the text itself could reflect the impatience of a character in an almost Modernist way.
Fitz, however, was a bit too obtuse for my liking when it came to Bee. I’m sure the majority of Fool’s Assassin readers had their suspicions about Bee’s status re. the White Prophet, but Fitz himself seemed incapable of considering it even when all the facts were repeatedly laid out in front of him. With Fitz’s history with a White Prophet, coupled with the rigorous assassin training he had in which – as mentioned in Fool’s Quest itself – Chade forced him to look at broken elements (plates, stories, clues) and make a whole of it, I find it incredibly hard to believe that the idea Bee was a White Prophet never occurred to him. Fitz is an intelligent, critical human being who has literally been trained to make judgements based on what he knows of a person. Here’s what he knew for at least months prior to finally wondering if Bee was a White Prophet/Unexpected Son:
- Bee is small and pale, like the Fool was when he was younger.
- Bee took a very long time in the womb, as had the Fool according to a story he told Fitz.
- Bee was the most unexpected child ever. She was born to a post-menopausal woman after nearly two years in Molly’s womb.
- Bee has prophetic dreams, like the Fool did when he was the White Prophet.
- Bee is frequently mistaken for a boy.
- Bee has been stolen by the Servants of Clerres, who are searching for the Unexpected Son, who is a White Prophet.
I’m not saying it should have been Fitz’s first thought, but there comes a time when it would at least cross your mind if you had such a strange child as Bee, especially when so much of her backstory reflects that of your friend, the White Prophet. It began to irritate me that Fitz just didn’t make the connection – even if he briefly thought it and then dismissed it as ridiculous, I would have found that infinitely more realistic.
The second thing is the dragon-related theft that Amber lied about to Malta and Reyn. This may well come up as a plot point later, but I expected a better lie from the Fool (and, indeed, had predicted a more sound one that would backfire far less, involving the Servants of Clerres and the Chalcedeans). As I say, I imagine this will be part of the third book, so I won’t judge it too harshly, it just surprised me.
But, let’s be honest. If those are the only flaws I can come up with, Hobb is doing pretty darn well for herself. I loved the book to pieces and it has definitely earned its place in my now-burgeoning collection of Hobb books. I will now (extremely) impatiently wait for the third book in this series, which is out in July 2017 and will be titled Assassin’s Fate.
My only hope is that it doesn’t destroy me as completely as Fool’s Fate did.