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Friday, July 25, 2014

Fantasy Review: Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb

I can't remember the last time I felt so torn about a book, and so conflicted about a review. This was one of my most anticipated reads of the year, and I really wanted to enjoy it. In fact, compared to my usual reading pace, I spent a great deal of time in the world that Robin Hobb created - and while I did enjoy aspects of it, I have to be honest in that most of my time was spent waiting for aspects to enjoy. It's a testament to Hobb's writing (and to Fitz's legacy) that I was able to exhibit such patience. Looking back, the closest analogy I can think of is watching a chess game between tournament masters - fascinating, challenging, and admirable, but hardly riveting.

Fool's Assassin may be labeled book one of the Fitz and the Fool Trilogy, but it's really an extended prologue of over 500 pages, followed by an opening chapter of about 80. That is to say there's a lot of talking, a lot of speculating, a lot of worrying, but not a lot of action. In fact, there are only a handful of scenes where anything of consequence takes place, and most of them are rushed together in those final 80 pages. It's hard to talk about them without getting into spoiler territory, but I will say the resolution of Molly's pregnancy is genuinely surprising, and those of you anxious for a reunion between the characters of the title will be waiting a very long time.

Hobb's writing is gorgeous, as always, and it's easy to fall into the cadence and rhythms of her story. Initially, it felt like no time at all had passed since the last trilogy, allowing me to become lost in the world of Fitz all over again. It was truly marvelous. However, around the halfway mark I really began to feel the lagging pace, with the story slow going, but somehow still compelling. I genuinely doubt it would have worked if I weren't already so familiar with Fitz, and invested in seeing where his second life might take him. The problem is, Fitz wasn't Fitz. Yes, his personality was there, and I know Hobb was trying to show us how far he had distanced himself from his past, but I have a hard time believing he could become so lazy, so gullible, so careless, and so insecure.

As for the other characters, that's a sore spot for me. Characters that we know and love, like Chade and Kettricken, are but pale imitations of their former selves. New characters, like FitzVigilant and Shun, are as shallow as they are annoying, while the most significant new addition (whose identity I refuse to spoil) is far too cold and awkward to ever embrace as a character, much less a narrator. Molly started out with some real potential, but soon became an extended plot device, and as fascinating as his (small) piece of the story is, we hardly get a chance to know the Fool.

The opening scenes were fantastic, and I really expected the story to take off from there, but we're subjected to endless chapters of dancing, talking, dressing, shopping, dreaming, complaining, and musing. It took forever to come back to that potential and, when we finally did, it was a race to the finish with a cliffhanger that reeks of desperation. I will absolutely give the next book a read, but Fitz had damned well better return to his old self, and there had better be a significant payoff for all the time we've invested in tolerating that character/narrator I have been so careful not to spoil.

Fool's Assassin is for hardcore fans only, and even then I suspect it will be something of a polarizing tale. Then again, maybe it's just me. The book does have a plethora of 5-star reads, so I'll be curious to see how the readers and reviewers I respect most react to the read.


Hardcover, 688 pages
Expected publication: August 12th 2014 by Del Rey

3 comments:

  1. Sorry to hear it didn't work for you as well as you'd hoped, but glad that there were at least some parts you enjoyed. It'll probably be a long time before I read this, if I ever do...I don't know if I'd call myself a hardcore fan of Fitz, but anyway, the general consensus seems to be that I really should finish the last book of Farseer and hit the Tawny Man trilogy before even thinking about tackling this.

    ~Mogsy

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    1. Oh, absolutely - what significance it does have would be completely lost without being familiar with the first 2 trilogies.

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  2. Sorry to hear you didn't enjoy this one. It worked much better for me (I still loved it), but I also expected some less positive reviews. I actually really enjoyed the new character that you won't name (understandably). But, this definitely ends with a feeling the next books will be more in align with her old ones, so I hope you enjoy those more.

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