Sunday, September 27, 2015

Fool's Quest - Robin Hobb

Fool's Quest is the second book in the Fitz and the Fool trilogy, in which Robin Hobb returns to her most successful character. The previous two trilogies were entirely written from Fitz' point of view though. In the first volume of this trilogy, Fool's Assassin, she adds the point of view of Fitz' daughter. This second volume is mostly focussed on Fitz again, although the Bee chapters do drive the story to a large extent. With 7 books on Fitz under her belt already, Hobb knows where she is going with this character. Fool's Quest is a strong book with a strongly character driven plot. Readers who like Fitz will love this book. It is a middle book in a trilogy though, so don't expect any resolutions just yet.

Fitz has returned to Buckkeep and this time, his role in keeping the Kingdom together during the last years of the reign of King Shrewd is fully acknowledged. Fitz is no longer Tom Badgerlock, he is a Farseer prince with all the power and obligations that come with the position.He doesn't get to enjoy his new status for long though. Word of the raid on Withywoods and the taking of Bee and Shun reaches the court. Fitz wants to go after his daughter right away but practicalities keep holding him back.

Fool's Assassin was a pretty hefty tome at 630 pages. This second volume is even longer. Hobb has never written fast-paced stories and she doesn't start now. Life at Buckkeep and the changes since Fitz' youth are described in detail. The changes in the relationships between the characters and their status also takes up quite a bit of Fitz' thoughts. Kettricken is still her queenly self. Dutiful has grown into his role as king, Chade enjoys his new freedom as member of the court but can't stop playing his games. Lady Rosemary is entirely absent, as befits her status as royal assassin, but between the lines you can feel the tension between her and Chade and the changing view on the usefulness of quiet work. Nettle is still her prickly self but these days, she is backed by impressive knowledge in the Skill as well as a number of coteries. I have rarely read a book in which the secondary characters and their relationships are as detailed as in Robin Hobb's work. The complexities of the court are a joy to read.

Most of the book centres on Fitz and the Fool however. The Fool is slowly recovering from his injuries. The first, reckless attempt by Fitz to heal him did not have the desired effect but after another attempt he appears to be making progress. Both Fitz and the Fool are impatient to be on their way. As Fitz coaxes the horrible tale of his stay with the Servants out of the Fool, it becomes apparent that Bee is in mortal danger and the Servants cannot be allowed to exist much longer. Fitz is not planning on taking the Fool anywhere though. He is simply too weak. The Fool will have none of it and it becomes the ground for another one of their famous spats.

The Fool's tale as well as what Fitz finds at his raided estate, make this book a very violent one. Hobb doesn't show that much of it but at Withywoods especially, the trauma of the raid is described in great detail. Where most fantasy authors would focus on the deed itself, Hobb pays attention to the mess left behind and that makes the book one of the darkest she has written. Where in other books Fitz suffers for what is done to him, in this novel, in part at least, he suffers for what is done to those he loves and cares for. His brief moments of triumph and tiny amounts of hope keep him going though.

Bee's storyline is less prominent in this book. Withywoods is deep within the Six Duchies and her kidnappers have a long way to go to safety. During the gruelling journey Bee begins to realize the full extent of her powers. They don't give her the means to escape though. Unlike Fitz when he was that age, Bee appears to be wise beyond her years. She is still naive in some ways but her magic, or perhaps I should say, her acceptance of it, gives her an edge. Where magic is a struggle for Fitz and has been his entire life, it comes naturally to Bee. You can already tell Fitz and Bee will have some issues to work through if they do get together again.

In terms of the world development there are two things that stand out in this book. The first is the new information we get on the Servants. In the previous seven books Hobb has given us hints but for the most part they remained mysterious. The Fool is giving us a more detailed look at how their settlement works and how much he was made to suffer at the hands of the Servants. Bee's storyline shows us the Servants at work. Although she doesn't understand their motivations, the reader does get to see what can only be described as religious fanatics through her eyes.

The second thing the reader will notice is that Hobb is weaving storylines of her Rainwilds books into these novels. The reappearance of dragons, to which both of these sets of novels have contributed, is obviously going to be important to the resolution of this story. We get to see a bit what has happened after the ending of Blood of Dragons. Events in Buckkeep point at tension between the Rain Wilds and the Six Duchies over the dragons. It will be interesting to see if this is just background or if Fitz will have to come to some sort of arrangement with them. Hobb also leaves herself an opening here to return to Kensingra for more stories.

What can I say about Fool's Quest that I haven't said of other Hobb books already? I'm a great fan of Hobb's novels (and Lindholm's for that matter) and this book delivers what I have come to love about the series. In terms of characterization Hobb is just way ahead of the pack in epic fantasy. It will likely be another year before it appears but the final volume in this trilogy is already on my to read list. With Hobb in this form, it promises to be a dramatic ending to the story of Ftiz and the Fool.

Book Details
Title: Fool's Quest
Author: Robin Hobb
Publisher: Voyager
Pages: 739
Year: 2015
Language: English
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 978-0-00-744421-2
First published: 2015

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