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: 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: 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: Soleri

Soleri-final-cover-for-dropboxTitle: Soleri (2017)
Author: Michael Johnston
Pages: 368
Series: Soleri #1

Soleri follows five characters who must negotiate an ever-changing web of deceit and conflict as they each vie for power in the sprawling Soleri empire. The story and setting were reminiscent of Game of Thrones but with tighter pacing and an Egyptian flair.

This marks author Michael Johnston’s first solo novel and it’s certainly an impressive debut — it’s equal parts epic and intimate, as we’re dealing with a small set of characters with political ambitions on a large scale. The writing is clear, concise, and moves the narrative along at a nice pace.

I sped through the first half of this novel before encountering a ~100 page stretch in the second half that really felt stagnate and lost my interest. Johnston employs an unsustainable barrage of fun plot twists in the first half that probably should have been spread more evenly throughout the book. It was not until the final few chapters that I was brought back to what was so good about the novel to begin with — twisty, intriguing family dynamics against the backdrop of an interesting world with a rich history.

★★★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: Fool’s Fate

Fool's FateTitle: Fool’s Fate (2003)
Author: Robin Hobb
Pages: 928
Series: Tawny Man #3, Realms of the Elderlings #9 (Series Tracker)

Fool’s Fate sets out at a sluggish pace, with the characters sailing to various territories in the Outislands. While this fleshed out the culture of the Outislanders in a compelling way, it mostly felt plodding and overlong. I was worried that this story would follow the same trajectory as the third book in the Farseer Trilogy, with Assassin’s Quest feeling much more meandering and unfocused than the preceding two books. Luckily, the story takes off at the halfway mark, and all my qualms were washed away.

Dragons, deaths, betrayals, family reunions — it’s jam-packed and Robin Hobb’s talents are on full display. The writing is imbued with so much care and emotion that it’s impossible not to care tremendously for each of our main characters. This was a beautiful conclusion to an excellent trilogy. I’m sad to leave Fitz behind to journey into the Rain Wilds, but it’s a comfort to know that there are three more Fitz books waiting for me on the other side.

★★★★½ 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: The Providence of Fire

Staveley_Anderson_Providence-of-FireTitle: The Providence of Fire (2015)
Author: Brian Staveley
Pages: 737
Series: Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne #2 (Series Tracker)

Picking up where series-starter The Emperor’s Blades left off, siblings Adare, Valyn, and Kaden, continue their fight to save the Annurian Empire. I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed the first book, but any goodwill that carried over to book #2 quickly evaporated. Gone are the training sequences, monk wisdom, and black ops action scenes that made the first book so absorbing. There is more bloodshed, fighting, and military maneuvering here, and the scope has expanded to such a degree that more intimate, personal narratives are left in the dust.

I had seen some stellar reviews from people I trust, but this didn’t end up being for me. I don’t think I’ll finish the trilogy, but I am intrigued by Skullsworn, a prequel novel that focuses on Pyrre, an assassin that has been a fun side character in this series. I have faith in Brian Staveley as an author and I hope my dislike The Providence of Fire came more from the story evolving out of my comfort zone, than from the quality of the narrative he is telling.

★★½ out of 5

Review: Borne

passport_Borne-A-Novel-1519296-9fdd0708c6a0d663eb92Title: Borne (2017)
Author: Jeff VanderMeer
Pages: 325

Rachel is a young woman scavenging the ruins of a dilapidated city. She comes across Borne, a sea anemone-like creature affixed to the side of monstrous bear that patrols her territory. Rachel must contend with Borne’s growing sentience (and size) as her world crumbles around her.

Borne shares a lot of stylistic DNA with Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, one of my favorite books of all time. This novel did not jibe with me in the same way, unfortunately. While Annihilation dealt with the slow creep of the unfamiliar into our known world, Borne shows a world already gone — a world filled with biotechnological monstrosities and a destroyed civilization. It’s a full embrace of the New Weird genre that VanderMeer has helped popularize, but it ultimately lost me along the way.

There are nuggets of really interesting ideas found within the pages of this novel, but I found the writing style to be ultimately inaccessible. Borne lacked a cohesive narrative and a compelling mystery, which made it difficult to stay invested. In the end, all the discordant sequences coalesced into something coherent, but it wasn’t enough to rectify the disinterest and confusion that came before it.

★★¼ out of 5