Book Description from Goodreads:
Tom Badgerlock has been living peaceably in the manor house at Withywoods with his beloved wife Molly these many years, the estate a reward to his family for loyal service to the crown.
But behind the facade of respectable middle-age lies a turbulent and violent past. For Tom Badgerlock is actually FitzChivalry Farseer, bastard scion of the Farseer line, convicted user of Beast-magic, and assassin. A man who has risked much for his king and lost more…
On a shelf in his den sits a triptych carved in memory stone of a man, a wolf and a fool. Once, these three were inseparable friends: Fitz, Nighteyes and the Fool. But one is long dead, and one long-missing.
Then one Winterfest night a messenger arrives to seek out Fitz, but mysteriously disappears, leaving nothing but a blood-trail. What was the message? Who was the sender? And what has happened to the messenger?
Suddenly Fitz’s violent old life erupts into the peace of his new world, and nothing and no one is safe.
Last year brought the start of a new trilogy about fantasy favorite FitzChivalry Farseer with the publication of Fool’s Assassin. The second book in the trilogy, Fool’s Quest, will be released on August 11.
This is not the place to start reading if you’re new to these books. The first trilogy focusing on this character is the Farseer Trilogy, which begins with Assassin’s Apprentice. Once those have been read, it can be tempting to skip straight to the Tawny Man Trilogy to read more about Fitz, but I would recommend reading the Liveship Traders Trilogy next. One of the characters from Farseer shows up in it, and it is best to know what happened between Farseer and Tawny Man—and it’s actually my favorite of the three trilogies despite being the one I thought had the slowest start. Fool’s Assassin takes place after the end of the Tawny Man Trilogy.
I haven’t read any of Robin Hobb’s novels since shortly after Fool’s Fate was released more than 10 years ago. Since these books were among the first books I read in the fantasy genre, I was worried I might find that my tastes had changed and the series had lost its appeal, but I need not have been concerned—I loved Fool’s Assassin (and Fool’s Quest is even better but I’ll write more about that one later!).
Fool’s Assassin is mostly a quiet book until toward the end. Fitz resides at Withywoods where lives a quiet life and stays out of the politics surrounding the crown as much as he possibly can. Due to his close ties to Chade, Kettricken, and Dutiful, he’s not able to escape completely, but he resists spending much time in Buckkeep. While there are events that shake up Fitz’s life before the Major Occurrences near the conclusion, most of the novel is focused on everyday life at Withywoods and developing a character I’m not going to discuss to avoid spoilers. This may sound boring and I’m sure some will find it to be just that, but personally, I enjoyed every moment of it. Robin Hobb’s writing is magic, and this particular book reminded me very much of how I feel about Jane Austen’s novels—not because the two authors’ books or writing styles are similar (they’re really not) but because it kept me glued to the pages even though so many of them were dedicated to simply following the characters’ lives. I am in awe of Robin Hobb’s ability to make me care about her characters so much that I hang on to every word of their conversations and narratives whether they’re involved in intrigue or just hanging around home.
It works so well because her characters are real and memorable. Fitz is an introspective narrator and all his thoughts are laid bare, showing him at both his best and his worst. He can be very endearing, but he can also be so dense that it’s infuriating. One of the earliest scenes in the book shows his steward telling him that he and another member of the household have some concerns about some so-called “minstrels” who appeared for Winterfest. They appeared to be sneaking around and one claimed they were minstrels, even though they had no instruments, while another claimed they were tumblers. Despite this suspicious behavior, Fitz dismissed it as unimportant. He’s been trained to be observant so I found this difficult to believe, although the argument could be made that he’s been living a quiet life and may be afraid of being paranoid about things that are inconsequential (and it’s true that lots of strangers do show up during Winterfest although I’m not quite sure why they’d lie about why they’re there). This isn’t the only time he overlooks the obvious, either, but it does seem like this is supposed to be part of his personality since the other characters seem to frequently react to him the same way I did—mostly with fondness but with occasional irritation. (That said, they were usually irritated with him for different reasons. I did think the other characters were sometimes too hard on him even though I sometimes understood where they were coming from and also realize that while I knew all his thoughts the other characters usually did not.)
It also frustrated me a bit that one of the characters in the trilogy title was not present for most of the book, mostly only showing up in Fitz’s thoughts. At times, I did get tired of hearing about how much he missed his old friend without actually getting to spend time with him myself, but at the same time, it fit well with the narrative. After all, we’re privy to all of Fitz’s reflections and the two were very close so it’s perfectly reasonable for him to think about someone he misses.
As mentioned earlier, much happens close to the end of the book. This is definitely just the first part of a larger story, and this book sets up the rest of the trilogy and then ends in a most inconvenient place. You will want to have the next book available when you finish (admittedly, the ending of the second book isn’t any more convenient but I’m still glad I continued reading rather than waiting longer to continue the story!).
Robin Hobb is one of the best fantasy writers there is. The amount of introspection and focus on everyday life wouldn’t work in the hands on most authors, but somehow she makes it work incredibly well. I enjoyed Fool’s Assassin more than the vast majority of books even before reading its exciting final pages. I didn’t want to put this down and was tempted to reread the previous books—but instead, I immediately began reading the next book in the trilogy!
My Rating: 9/10
Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.