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: Ship of Destiny

9780006498872-ship-of-destiny-1Title: Ship of Destiny (2000)
Author: Robin Hobb
Pages: 903
Series: Liveship Traders #3, Realms of the Elderlings #6 (Series Tracker)

Ship of Destiny shows the convergence of 10+ main characters and their storylines, which was mostly satisfying, but sometimes felt muddled because of how many moving pieces were suddenly occupying the same space. Nevertheless, author Robin Hobb has built an incredible world with a boatload of characters, all of whom, no matter how small, have important roles to play in the end.

I loved the addition of Tintaglia the dragon and just the overall direction that dragon-kind appears to be taking in the long-term series — having the creatures be intelligent instead of beast-like is always my preference. Hobb writes Tintaglia in a way that makes you believe her to be more enlightened and significant than any mere human we’ve come across so far. Not every writer can successfully cultivate that voice.

After two novels of carefully plotted set-up, Ship of Destiny delivers an action-packed conclusion to what was a wonderfully epic trilogy. The final book of the preceding Farseer trilogy meandered about until everything was tied up at the very end, but Ship of Destiny balances the payoffs to hit evenly throughout the course of the book. Overall, the whole of the story feels greater than the sum of its individual book parts and the Liveship saga is an absolute feat of storytelling. On to the Tawny Man trilogy!  

★★★★¼ 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

Review: Assassin’s Quest

robin_hobb_-_assassins_quest_coverTitle: Assassin’s Quest (1997)
Author: Robin Hobb
Pages: 839
Series: Farseer Trilogy #3, Realms of the Elderlings #3 (Series Tracker)

Robin Hobb writes character relationships like no one I’ve read. In Royal Assassin, the novel directly preceding this one, that skill is on full display — FitzChivalry Farseer is in a castle surrounded by his enemies, his allies, his confidants, and his lover. Fitz’s interwoven relationships with these groups made for a very satisfying level of court intrigue.  In Assassin’s Quest, Fitz casts off on his own, leaving Buckkeep behind. It reminded me of the disappointment I felt toward the end of the Harry Potter series, when Harry is no longer at Hogwarts. Harry moves from place to place, spending large chunks of time camped in the woods. It never quite feels as magical as it did back within the confines of Hogwarts.

The word “Quest” in the title is apt. Fitz journeys relentlessly. There are only so many times one can make camp, hunt, and evade capture before it becomes a trifle tiresome. Things unfold so slowly that it feels like Fitz and his companions are wading through quicksand. The events that transpire along the way are interesting enough to recover some goodwill, but it was not always a satisfying journey to me as a reader. While Royal Assassin was always propelling the reader forward toward an ending, Assassin’s Quest felt meandering and stagnant.

There is magic to be found here, however. Between the Skill and the Wit, Hobb has created two unique magic systems that are intriguing in their own right, but Fitz’s possession of both makes for a dazzling combination. The issue is that Fitz is never in full command of his abilities. In fact, no character in this story is wholly themselves. Hollowed out by grief, or the Skill, or secrets, no one is operating at 100% and the wonderfully written characters cannot shine until the final pages. That being said, the conclusion here is epic and the story is capped by a beautiful and rewarding epilogue. Despite my aforementioned misgivings, Hobb’s writing remains the beacon in the dark. Rarely have I read fiction so engrossing. Her words evoke such a clear picture in my mind as a reader that even a story with flaws can still take flight off the page.

★★★★ out of 5

Review: Royal Assassin

68487Title: Royal Assassin (1996)
Author: Robin Hobb
Pages: 752
Series: Farseer Trilogy #2, Realms of the Elderlings #2 (Series Tracker)

The mindless Forged ones gain in number, roaming the Six Duchies like a zombie horde. Within Buckkeep, FitzChivalry Farseer hones his skills as a covert assassin and takes on a greater role in the kingdom, while thwarting plays for the throne from Prince Regal, his scheming uncle.

I have circled back to this series after three years away, having enjoyed the first book well enough, but never having a burning passion to continue beyond that. Dipping my toe into book two quickly brought me back to the world of the Six Duchies and brought me an enjoyment level I never quite found with Assassin’s Apprentice. I am not sure if the quality has improved tremendously from the first book to the next, or if I just have a firmer grasp on what strong fantasy writing looks like.  

Robin Hobb creates such a clear picture of human nature and emotion with her writing. It may be long-winded at times, but each scene, no matter how subtle, has a purpose (building characters, setting up a mystery, or unraveling one). I appreciate the time she takes with character development, as it makes me care more about each individual character. Relationships feel more meaningful, betrayals more devastating. The focus on one royal family line makes this possible, as stories like Game of Thrones have such massive casts that you can only really know each player and family in a limited sense.

I enjoyed Royal Assassin immensely and burned through it just wanting to know what would become of our dear protagonist. I deem my re-entry into the series a great success and am going to attempt to work my way through the remaining 15 books of Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings series. Only ~10,000 pages to go until the new book is out in May!

★★★★½ out of 5