Book Review: Fantasy: Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb

Fool's Assassin Cover

Nearly twenty years ago, Robin Hobb burst upon the fantasy scene with the first of her acclaimed Farseer novels, Assassin’s Apprentice, which introduced the characters of FitzChivalry Farseer and his uncanny friend the Fool. A watershed moment in modern fantasy, this novel—and those that followed—broke exciting new ground in a beloved genre. Together with George R. R. Martin, Robin Hobb helped pave the way for such talented new voices as Scott Lynch, Brandon Sanderson, and Naomi Novik.

Over the years, Hobb’s imagination has soared throughout the mythic lands of the Six Duchies in such bestselling series as the Liveship Traders Trilogy and the Rain Wilds Chronicles. But no matter how far she roamed, her heart always remained with Fitz. And now, at last, she has come home, with an astonishing new novel that opens a dark and gripping chapter in the Farseer saga.

FitzChivalry—royal bastard and former king’s assassin—has left his life of intrigue behind. As far as the rest of the world knows, FitzChivalry Farseer is dead and buried. Masquerading as Tom Badgerlock, Fitz is now married to his childhood sweetheart, Molly, and leading the quiet life of a country squire.

Though Fitz is haunted by the disappearance of the Fool, who did so much to shape Fitz into the man he has become, such private hurts are put aside in the business of daily life, at least until the appearance of menacing, pale-skinned strangers casts a sinister shadow over Fitz’s past . . . and his future.

Now, to protect his new life, the former assassin must once again take up his old one. . . .

Title: Fool’s Assassin
Author: Robin Hobb
Category: Adult Fiction
Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy
Publisher: Del Ray Spectra
Publication Date: August 12, 2014
Format: Electronic Review Copy
Length: 580 pages
ISBN-10: 0553392425
ISBN-13: 9780553392425

Series or Standalone: The Fitz and The Fool Trilogy, #1

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes: Family/Parenting
POV: Dual First Person
Tense: Past

Reviewer: Atsiko Ureni

How I Got It: Nick received an electronic review copy of this book from NetGalley, and being a huge Robin Hobb fan, of course I said I’d review it.

Review:

I always try to write my reviews as soon after finishing the book as possible, because the longer I wait, the more I notice things that weren’t actually so great about it. But as a reader, if the author can manage to sweep those things under the rug long enough for me to finish the book, I’m willing to give them a bit of wiggle room. But, even having only been done for a day or so, I still had a few issues with this book, even though I mostly enjoyed it.

World-building

Judging a book in a series is always harder than a standalone. Especially a book that continues a larger series after ten years or more. I loved the rest of Hobb’s Fitz series, and all her stories set in the same world, to be honest. So she has the weight of all her previous (and incredible) world-building work behind this book. That said, I think she still did a great job with her world-building in this novel, tying in with the older books with barely the knot even showing. The Six Duchies still stands out as one of the most beautiful and fully-realized fantasy settings I’ve ever had the pleasure to encounter. And the setting of Withywoods is in the same vein. I felt just as present there as I did at Buckkeep in the previous novels.

Characters

The first major issue I have with the book–and many other reviews apparently agree with me–was the characters. Nettle, Fitz’s daughter with Molly, was almost perfect. A bit clueless about some things, but more by authorial edict than character development. Molly, too, felt like a natural progression of her previous character. But beyond that, the main characters had some serious flaws in their portrayal. Fitz himself seemed to be his old smart self or a complete idiot as the plot dictated. He would ignore his daughter Bee’s problems at one point, and a page later he would be almost the ideal father to her. It was incredibly frustrating in some places. It didn’t ruin the book for me, but it contributed to several concerns I had with the way the plot was constructed. When Hobb was on the ball, she was on fire, but when she was off it, she was terrible in this respect.

Bee was another problem character. Again the plot seemed to force her into some unnatural behavior, such as her lack of communication in areas where even a girl her age would have known it was needed. She was portrayed as wiser than her years in many ways, and yet she also had the instincts of a child and the apparent knowledge of how adults are so divorced from children’s politics to be good allies. In many ways, she was an expertly constructed character, despite my issues with the rather cliche “old soul”/ mystical waif character Hobb assigned her. I was so split on Bee. I wanted to love her when sparks of Hobb’s first person characterization brilliance showed themselves. But often I found her annoying.

Finally, several characters were caught up in the authorial persecution of Bee’s character. FitzVigilant(Lant), Shun Fallstar, even Fitz, on occasion. Hobb had so many other seeds she could have nurtured in pursuit of her goal with Bee, and yet she fell back on mediocre conspiracy between characters. Certainly Fitz often joined this conspiracy by being a complete idiot on several occasions.

Shun’s character was quite irritating in that regard. And others. I never figured out why Chade was such an idiot regarding how her temperament might conflict with Bee and Fitz. Why he even let her retain such a temperament in the first place. Several of the characters are getting a bit old, perhaps losing some of their edge. A great route to take, I think, if only Hobb had made better use of it. But it doesn’t excuse their utter failure to think ahead more than three seconds when convenient to Hobb’s plot.

In fact, I might have enjoyed Shun and Lant’s personalities in isolation or in another context. But as is, they frustrated me quite a lot.

Plot

For obvious spoiler reasons and the fact that this is an advance review, I won’t be able to discuss the plot issues as fully as I’d like. The main plot was quite interesting. On it’s own, it might warrant a 9/10. But Hobb’s obvious desire to accomplish her set-up and character introductions meant the pacing in this book was off quite often, and the book dragged in areas. Even with the large time-skips near the beginning of the novel. If Hobb had focused more on the main plot, and not dropped such a brutally lazy cliff-hanger at the end of the book, it would have been a great re-entrance into the Farseer universe. There was a lot of potential in the book, and I’m very hopeful that the rest of the series, having its set-up completed her, will be a vast improvement in terms of actual story.

Conclusion

This definitely felt like a Fitz novel, and though it may seem like I hated everything about the book, it was actually a mostly enjoyable read, even if I have to admit it’s not Hobb’s best work. I do think it’s worth reading, and the portion of Fitz fans who were desperately waiting for more Farseer novels will definitely want to read this. It was great to feel the old characters around me again. Even though there wasn’t a lot of new action and mystery in the novel, it was still interesting, and I wanted to know what would happen as I turned the pages.

That said, for someone just getting into the Farseer novels or Robin Hobb as an author, I would not start here. I would read the Soldier Son trilogy or the original Fitz trilogy first.

Conclusion: 80/100 (Worth the read, but my expectations were much too high)
Premise: 8/10 (For anyone whose ever wanted an “after the quest is over” narrative)
Plot: 8/10 (Coherent and interesting, but had some holes)
Setting: 9/10 (I definitely felt like I was in the Six Duchies. Withywoods especially was great)
Main Character(s): 7/10 (Mostly well-drawn and interesting, but Bee had some issues)
World-building: 8/10 (Lovely, few holes)
Magic System 9/10 (Very solid and integrated to the world, though rarely flashy)
Supporting Characters: 7/10 (The newer characters felt a bit shallow)
Writing: 8/10 (Very evocative, but awkward in places)
Themes: 8/10 (Good themes, and well executed for the most part)
Resolution: 8/10 (Interesting, but an annoyingly massive cliff-hanger)

Buy Or Borrow: Definitely worth buying this. I can’t wait to read the next one.

Similar Books:
The Demon Child Trilogy by Jennifer Fallon
Winds of the Forelands by David B. Coe

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Kirkus Reviews
Publisher’s Weekly
SciFiNow
I Smell Sheep
Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist
Kobold Press

Buy Links:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

E-Books:
iBooks
Kindle UK
Kindle US
Kobo
Google Play
nook

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: Fantasy: Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb

  1. Having just finished reading the book, I find it interesting that I reached virtually the complete opposite conclusion that you did about Bee and Nettle. I find it extremely infuriating how Hobb writes Nettle. I definitely would not consider her perfect. She is just plain annoying and seems so unsympathetic to her father who tries so very hard to do right and protect everyone. Her father can’t be everywhere at once, and what you see when you read the books about FitzChivalry is how so many people depend on him (despite if they may be far away or not).

    As far as Bee is concerned, she was a breath of fresh air in the book. I enjoyed her perspective immensely in her solo chapters, as it was a nice thing to see in contrast to FitzChivalry’s viewpoint. I did feel that Shun and FitzVigilant were extremely annoying characters, and they needed to be checked by Chade and FitzChivalry much more often to wean them of their ridiculous attitudes.

  2. Well, I do agree that Nettle’s opinion on Ftiz’s suitability as a parent got really obnoxious after awhile. She seemed really condescending towards both Fitz and Bee.

    The problem I had with Bee was less with her chapters in isolation, and more with the fact that I felt her character was forced into some behavior patterns by the plot rather than developing organically from the events of the book and her interactions. So her chapters were definitely a nice contrast to Fitz, but I still had issues with her character development.

    There’s always room for different opinions, though, because each reader brings their own perspective and experiences to the book. For example, I’m bored with farm boy chosen Hero’s journey quests, but many readers can’t get enough.

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