Review: Assassin’s Fate

XPLzpNg.jpgTitle: Assassin’s Fate (2017)
Author: Robin Hobb
Pages: 864
Series: The Fitz & The Fool #3, Realms of the Elderlings #16 (Series Tracker)

I fear that I may never again read such a wonderful series. Robin Hobb has written 16 books that are immersive, heartbreaking, and brilliantly realized. There is quite a bit of fantasy that I have yet to read, and don’t profess to be an expert in the genre by any means, but I can’t imagine finding another series that I will be as emotionally invested in as this one.

As a singular book, Assassin’s Fate functions as a proper conclusion to The Fitz & The Fool trilogy, the Liveship Traders trilogy, the Rain Wild Chronicles tetralogy, AND the Realms of the Elderlings series as a whole. There is a tremendous amount of story to tie off and Hobb does so masterfully. SO much happens in this book. It features tremendous buildup, non-stop action, and a conclusion that left me emotionally spent. This was a story of movement, progress, and rising tension. Our two POV characters set out on a collision course; the results of which were completely unpredictable. I was left guessing the entire way, with Hobb delivering surprises and her signature gut-punches to the very end.

This is a supremely satisfying finale to a series that will stick with me for my entire reading life. I hope Hobb continues with the threads of the story that she did not tie off. I would gleefully return to the world that she’s created whenever she wants to have me again.

★★★★★ out of 5

Some extraneous thoughts on my Realms of the Elderlings reading experience:

  • I read Assassin’s Apprentice in 2014, liked the book well enough, but decided not to read on in the series. When I saw that the (potentially) final book in the series was to be released in 2017, I picked up book #2, suspecting that it wouldn’t grab me enough to make it beyond the first few chapters. I…was…wrong. I burned through the remaining 15 books in a span of 237 days — each book my constant companion at home, on the subway, during lunch breaks at work, and even on my honeymoon in Iceland!
  • Below is a chart of my star ratings for each individual book in the series. Although many ratings fall below 4 stars, this is the type of series where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts:

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  • Thank you to the New York Public Library for providing ebooks of the entire series and thank you to Robin Hobb for writing such wonderful books that I will cherish forever. I understand if this is the end of the tale, but I will jump right back in if ever you decide to add to your masterpiece.
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Review: Fool’s Quest

fool-s-quest-2Title: Fool’s Quest (2015)
Author: Robin Hobb
Pages: 788
Series: The Fitz & The Fool #2, Realms of the Elderlings #15 (Series Tracker)

After a stellar first book, this follow-up was a bit of a let down. Fool’s Assassin felt fresh, with new characters and circumstances reviving Fitz’s tale. Fool’s Quest feels stagnate, with very little forward plot momentum. The events at the end of the previous book led me to believe that we would see an emboldened Fitz, hellbent on seeking revenge on those who have wronged him. Instead, we see travel preparations, brooding, licking wounds, and minimal plot progression. Hobb’s writing is still wonderful but this feels very “middle book-ish” with no resolution or sense of completeness. I’m still excited for the final book, though. Onward!

★★★½ out of 5

Review: Blood of Dragons

BloodofDragons.pngTitle: Blood of Dragons (2013)
Author: Robin Hobb
Pages: 545
Series: Rain Wild Chronicles #4, Realms of the Elderlings #13 (Series Tracker)

Blood of Dragons closes the door on the Rain Wild Chronicles tetralogy. I was expecting a grand finale, but was disappointed to read a more muted story that concluded several storylines that I did not care much about. Robin Hobb’s similarly structured Liveship Traders series had countless characters that all felt like important components of a densely woven tapestry, while this series felt less essential and grand, with a heavy focus on relationship drama. Gripes aside, this is not a bad book, just one I did not enjoy as much as most other Realms of Elderlings works. Four series down, one to go!

★★★¼ out of 5

Review: The Legion of Flame

LegionofFlame.jpgTitle: The Legion of Flame (2017)
Author: 
Anthony Ryan
Pages: 592
Series: The Draconis Memoria #2 (Series Tracker)

The Legion of Flame picks up directly after the events of The Waking Fire (review), as our adventurers must contend with the White drake menace that they’ve unleashed on the world.

I love the sandbox that author Anthony Ryan has created — a Victorian-era world filled with steampunk gadgets and a politically complex society. Unfortunately, a cool setting is not enough to overcome a thin plot that struggles to carry the novel.

That being said, the first few hundred pages were outstanding. The pacing was much better than the first book as there was less reliance on action sequences to drive the narrative forward. It’s these quieter moments (the scheming, the politics, etc.) where Ryan’s writing is most engaging. I find his action sequences to be difficult to follow and repetitive. There are only so many times a chapter can end with impending danger at the unexpected sight of a dragon.

Eventually, much like the first book, things descend into a dizzying action bonanza. This, coupled with an ending with little resolution, makes my commitment to finishing this series up in the air.

★★¾ out of 5

Review: City of Dragons

d80f67438973206d458173c0fd7fabbdTitle: City of Dragons (2011)
Author: Robin Hobb
Pages: 426
Series: Rain Wild Chronicles #3, Realms of the Elderlings #12 (Series Tracker)

Upon finding Kelsingra, the titular “City of Dragons”, our dragons and their scaled human companions seek to gain a foothold in a mysterious place while also grappling with the physical changes that this mystical location has wrought upon them. Several new character POVs are seen, including a few whose nefarious aims threaten the strange settlement and its inhabitants.

While not as engaging as the prior Rain Wild book, scenes featuring Kelsingra were fascinating; it was unfortunate that more of the story did not take place there. Like the first book in this series, City of Dragons leans heavily on set-up, as this is the first half of what was originally one long manuscript. This story checks in with several underserved characters and sees where everyone is positioned for the big finale. I look forward to seeing how this tetralogy concludes, but with a title like Blood of Dragons it may not be smooth sailing for our weary adventurers.

★★★½ out of 5

Review: Dragon Haven

dragonhavenTitle: Dragon Haven (2010)
Author: Robin Hobb
Pages: 526
Series: Rain Wild Chronicles #2, Realms of the Elderlings #11 (Series Tracker)

Many of Robin Hobb’s books begin with a set of characters that are broken in some way (physically, emotionally, by circumstance, etc.). Throughout the course of each book or series these characters are made whole through their experiences. Dragon Keeper introduced us to several flailing entities (feeble dragons, outcast keepers, multiple characters in doomed relationships), but it is from these small beginnings that these characters come into their own in Dragon Haven.

This book is very much a continuation of Dragon Keeper — which is not surprising, since these first two books were split from one long manuscript. Where the first book provided the set-up, Dragon Haven delivered with the action, romance, and pacing of a much more enjoyable book. I’ve become more connected with these characters, and in classic Robin Hobb fashion, I’m sharing in their triumphs and hurting from their defeats. Although it’s not quite at the level as the three preceding trilogies, this is a major improvement on the first book.

★★★¾ out of 5

Review: The Waking Fire

Title: The Waking Fire (2016)
Author: Anthony Ryan
Pages: 594
Series: The Draconis Memoria #1 (Series Tracker)

9781101987872Combine the magic system of Mistborn, the gunplay of Red Dead Redemption, the steampunk aesthetic of Bioshock Infinite, the dragons of Skyrim, a fun cast, a unique culture, and an intriguing Macguffin and you have The Waking Fire. I was expecting a traditional dragon-centric Epic Fantasy story and this was that and so much more.

The story follows three character POVs who are each integral to the hunt for the mythical White drake, whose blood grants unimaginable power to those who can ingest/wield it. Along the way, the characters are thrown into bar brawls, naval battles, dragon fights, zombie horde skirmishes, and so on — frankly, the steady barrage of action sequences was a bit dizzying. I would have happily sacrificed a few of these scenes for some additional character development. With that in mind, the book feels overlong, but luckily never loses its sense of excitement. Author Anthony Ryan has built a thrilling and fascinating world that I plan on revisiting soon in the forthcoming sequel, The Legion of Flame (2017).

★★★¾ out of 5

Review: Dragon Keeper

9780061561627_0_CoverTitle: Dragon Keeper (2009)
Author: Robin Hobb
Pages: 500
Series: Rain Wild Chronicles #1, Realms of the Elderlings #10 (Series Tracker)

It’s always difficult to leave Fitz behind, especially for a tetralogy that is regarded as the weak point in the Realms of the Elderlings series. I was hoping that a story devoted to several dragons would be big, bold, and thrilling; unfortunately, the dragons found in this opening tome were weak, malformed, and helpless. Obviously, this is just the beginning and things will likely change in the forthcoming books, but it was a disappointing revelation that Tintaglia and dragons like her were nowhere to be found.

That’s not to say that there is nothing to like about this book. Compared to the Liveship Traders trilogy, this story is much more focused, the cast is less sprawling, and the characters convergence more quickly. The main characters are complex, likable, and varied. From Alise, the erudite Bingtown trader’s daughter, to Thymara, the societal outcast seeking a place in the world, and to Leftrin, the shrewd ship captain with a heart; each character seems to have virtuous aims with realistic faults, and that makes them easy to root for.

Overall, though, this novel was mostly character introduction and set-up; it never captivated me like Hobb’s other works, but I will push forward to the next book to see if the story picks up.

★★★ out of 5

Review: A Natural History of Dragons

3861af64c1f9c7a81ddb96a914c415a3Title: A Natural History of Dragons (2013)
Author: Marie Brennan
Pages: 334
Series: The Memoirs of Lady Trent #1

A Natural History of Dragons begins the memoirs of Isabella Camherst, a preeminent authority on dragon biology. This volume is her origin story, chronicling her first expedition to observe dragons in the wild.

While the story feels delightfully British, is easy to follow, and features a likable protagonist, I never quite connected with it. I think the whimsical nature of Isabella’s retelling saps the tale of any emotional heft, but that is not to say that the book would have benefited from a more dour tone. On the contrary, I think the tone it sets is necessary for the celebrity-biologist-memoir that it aims to be. Many people will (and have) enjoyed this novel and its subsequent sequels, but I will bow out after this tale.

★★½ out of 5