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:

Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 7.39.08 PM.jpg

  • 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.
Advertisements

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: Fool’s Assassin

FoolsAssassinTitle: Fool’s Assassin (2014)
Author: Robin Hobb
Pages: 688
Series: The Fitz & The Fool, Realms of the Elderlings #14 (Series Tracker)

In Fool’s Assassin, we return to our beloved protagonist, FitzChivalry Farseer, who is living a peaceful life as Tom Badgerlock at Withywoods manor. Of course, said peace is quickly disrupted by events that threaten Fitz’s closest family and friends.

I would happily read an entire book about Fitz puttering around his retirement home, fixing things, and training apprentices (he’s certainly earned the break), but I’m equally delighted to see him called back into action. There is no permanent retirement for the “Witted Bastard”.

The narrative arc here is less defined than in previous Fitz books, as Robin Hobb once again delves into the dizzying array of complex characters and relationships that are so engrossing to read about. Even though these books are ostensibly about Fitz, no one book feels the same and with the addition of a wonderful new character POV, fresh life has been breathed into Fitz’s tale once more. The book ends with the first real cliffhanger I can remember in all of Hobb’s books — as if I need any other reason to read more of this series…

★★★★¼ 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: 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: Golden Fool

GoldenFool.jpgTitle: Golden Fool (2002)
Author: Robin Hobb
Pages: 736
Series: Tawny Man #2, Realms of the Elderlings #8 (Series Tracker)

Golden Fool expands and improves upon every aspect of Fool’s Errand, just as Royal Assassin did for Assassin’s Apprentice. This story was firing on all cylinders — the pacing, the plotting, the action, and the intrigue; it was all on full display.

Fitz (as Tom Badgerlock) is firmly back in the game and he’s juggling relationships with: his three children (one by blood, one adopted, and one…well, it’s complicated), The Fool/Lord Golden, spymaster Chade, Queen Kettricken, Starling, Thick, and his past self. He’s developed a keen insight into his own grief — something that is now fully realized after having so much practice at it. Even after five books in Fitz’s story, the characters and relationships around him continue to evolve in fresh new ways — as does the overall plot of the Realms of the Elderlings narrative. This book marked the first major crossover between adjacent trilogies, as the events of the Liveship Traders series are reframed and what I understood about certain characters was cast in a new light.

This book fully rekindled my addiction to this world. I’ve been swept into the Skill stream and I’m happy to go wherever it takes me.

★★★★½ out of 5

Review: Fool’s Errand

FoolsErrand-USTitle: Fool’s Errand (2001)
Author: Robin Hobb
Pages: 662
Series: Tawny Man #1, Realms of the Elderlings #7 (Series Tracker)

It is so good to see these characters again after three books away. When we last left FitzChivalry Farseer, his story had ended in a place that I was comfortable with and he seemed to be at peace. I was initially apprehensive about his return to action, but author Robin Hobb eventually coaxed me back — just as Chade and The Fool do for Fitz. As such, our now-unretired protagonist must use his magical Wit and Skill to track down young Dutiful Farseer from interlopers with complicated aims.

As excited as I was to see the band back together, it really took a while for this story to get rolling. Hobb’s writing is top-notch, as always, so even long sequences of relative idleness are not difficult to stomach. About two-thirds of the way through, though, there was a scene that grabbed and shook me deeply. From that point forward, the action picked up and I flew through the final chapters. I’ve fully bought in to Fitz’s new story arc and I see great potential for the next books in this series. 7 books down, 9 to go!

★★★¾ out of 5

Review: The Mad Ship

les-aventuriers-de-la-mer,-tome-5---prisons-d-eau-et-de-bois-369293-250-400Title: The Mad Ship (1999)
Author: Robin Hobb
Pages: 906
Series: Liveship Traders #2, Realms of the Elderlings #5 (Series Tracker)

The Mad Ship continues the conquests of those we met in Ship of Magic, while adding a few new character POVs to the fold. As paths cross and fates entwine, many single POVs pair together and the narration becomes more cohesive. Nevertheless, this is much less a complete tale as it is a continuation from book #1 — and with no definitive ending, I suspect book #3 will follow the same path. In many ways this trilogy is one loooong book, sliced into three parts.  

I have been burning through Robin Hobb’s work pretty steadily over the last few months, and I hit a wall with this book. As a reader, I seek fresh new journeys, but this ongoing saga progresses at such a slow pace that it was tough to stay as consistently enthralled as I was at the outset. Luckily, the quality of Hobb’s writing remains top notch and the story grabbed me back as the ending approached.

With such a heavy emphasis on character development, it’s easy to overlook how well Hobb does story revelations. She plants seeds for overarching mysteries that are very hard to solve as the reader, but when the answers are revealed they are surprising, satisfying, and they have ramifications for the overall Realms of the Elderlings world that keep me excited for each subsequent book.

★★★¾ out of 5

Review: Ship of Magic

Robin_Hobb_-_Ship_of_Magic_CoverTitle: Ship of Magic (1998)
Author: Robin Hobb
Pages: 880
Series: Liveship Traders #1, Realms of the Elderlings #4 (Series Tracker)

Ship of Magic sheds the traditional high fantasy habitat and fixed perspective employed by the Farseer trilogy to tell a seafaring tale with multiple points-of-view. Moving south from the Six Duchies, we’re introduced to the Vestrit family, whose bloodline has been in possession of a Liveship, a sentient vessel who has recently awakened. Such an awakening is a great blessing for a trading family, but the Vestrit’s can’t anticipate the pirates, sea serpents, and family divisions that come alive, as well.

With the added flexibility of multiple POVs, Robin Hobb deposits her new characters across the map and deftly moves them about to do her bidding. There is no significant forward momentum towards the larger story arc, but each character’s individual story was compelling enough to hold my interest. Most plot lines feel rich with potential, but I had hoped for a more complete story to take shape.

Something Hobb does especially well in this new territory is establishing legitimate threats to the characters across several levels. On a personal level (Jerk son-in-law Kyle Haven, Malta the brat), a regional level (the overindulgent Satrap, enterprising pirates), a physical level (pirates and conniving sea serpents), and an unknown level (the mystical Rain Wild river folk) — All combine to form a daunting maze for our heroes to navigate. This was a good start to the trilogy and I suspect the next two installments will build on the foundation that Ship of Magic establishes.

★★★¾ out of 5