Assassin’s Quest is the final book in Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy. It has one of the most fantastic opening chapters I’ve ever read in the genre. I don’t think I’m spoiling to anything that, to avoid death at the end of book 2, the protagonist FitzChivalry Farseer, has implanted his soul inside that of his companion wolf Nighteyes. He is reintroduced to his body, and nursed back to health, by Burrich, who must He must reteach him everything. Hobb does an excellent job walking us through the most basic tasks: having been a wolf for a time, Fitz has lost his day-to-day moments of social etiquette, such as using the bathroom outside, and washing, and eating with one’s fingers. Slowly Fitz regains these memories, and his sole desire is to kill Prince Regal, the uncle who put him in this state.
In his headlong rush to assassinate the Prince, he nearly kills himself several times. Prince Verity compels Fitz by using magic, to “come to him”, and join him on his quest to find the Elderling race, who have promised to awaken the dragons and save the Six Duchies from the Redship Raiders.
Since I’ve briefly sketched the major plot points (and consequently have made the book sound about as unappealing as is possible to do), I want to focus on a couple themes Hobb works with. She is often much more than a pedestrian fantasy writer, but explores deeper concepts, and uses the plot as a vehicle to make the reader think.
Hobb’s works often display an interest in magical abilities that people have long forgotten. Throughout the trilogy, Fitz becomes better acquainted with his hard-earned Wit (beast magic) and Skill (mind magic). The fate of the Elderling race has been lost altogether by the Six Duchies kingdom. Here and there, the books hint at other, deeper magics that have been buried by time and inattention. As we follow Fitz learning, Hobb unravels the magic in the universe, and the concepts governing the laws. She never forces the reader obligatory three-page in-book essays about “how the wit works”; rather, it’s an unfolding, both to Fitz, and to the reader. Now, I know that lots of fantasy writers employ this device to carry exposition forward. Hobb, though, is remarkable at it.
Speaking of remarkable I might mention at this point (having read all her novels now), that Robin Hobb masterfully delivers cliff-hanger at each book ending. As soon as I finished the first two novels in the Farseer trilogy, I had to move to the third. She left me no option. You don’t just kill the protagonist’s body, put his mind inside a wolf, and leave the reader there!
Sexuality is broached thematically many times during Hobb’s novels, but she starts in earnest here, as she explores King Shrewd’s ambiguous ivory-skinned Fool, a close friend of Fitz. It is mentioned at one point that nobody knows whether the fool is male or female. For Fitz, the point is a dire one: to call the Fool (whom he views as a male) a woman is a slight on his friend, nearly ruining a friendship with a traveling companion.. The Fool himself does not care; in fact, he takes great pleasure from annoying people around him.
If you could pour your hurts and your pain into an inanimate object, would you? Fitz is faced with this situation. He’s been born a bastard, used by his grandfather and by the court, has lost friends because he was ordered to kill them, and has been hunted and presumably killed by his own uncle. His rage and despair are palpable. He’s given the opportunity to siphon away his grief, anger, and hurt. I won’t tell you if he decides to or not—it’s rather important to the story—but the important thing is that Hobb bring up the question at all. FitzChivalry is a deeper character than a young killer who hungers for revenge. In fact, Fitz seems like nobody so much as Shakespeare’s young Prince of Denmark.
A second trilogy follows Fitz’s, and the Fool’s, story. I was quite glad. I grew to love Hobb’s characters and wasn’t ready to leave them alone. I would strongly urge those who enjoyed the Farseer Trilogy to pick up, and read, the Tawny Man trilogy. When she writes well (and she usually does) she’s a master in the genre.
Five of Five stars.