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The Tawny Man Trilogy by Robin Hobb (Spoiler Free Review)

The Tawny Man Trilogy by Robin Hobb (Spoiler Free Review)
Book Name: Fool’s Errand, The Golden Fool, and Fool’s Fate
Author: Robin Hobb
Publisher(s): Spectra (US) Harper Voyager (UK)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / eBook
Genre(s): Epic Fantasy
Release Date: January 2, 2002 (US) October 15, 2001 (UK); December 2, 2003 (US) October 21, 2002 (UK); February 3, 2004 (US) 2003 (UK)

Spoilers follow for Hobb’s first and second trilogies. No spoilers for the The Tawny Man trilogy.

The Tawny Man, Hobb’s second trilogy relating the story of Fitzchivalry and third overall, is perhaps the most often under-looked of all her works. The Farseer Trilogy was an astonishing set of books, introducing fantasy’s favourite bastard, Fitzchivalry, (not you, Jon Snow) and forcing him through three novels worth of injury, tragedy and heartbreak before thousands of readers said their farewells at the close of the only underwhelming instalment in his story, Assassin’s Quest. Hobb’s second trilogy, The Liveship Traders, shifted the focus to the southern city of Bingtown, and was for many a dreary adventure in comparison. Set fifteen years after those events, Fool’s Errand, the first in the third trilogy, picks up Fitz’s story – and what a welcome return it is.

Fool’s Errand (cover)Fifteen years after Fitz and Verity saved the Six Duches from the Red Ship Raiders, Fitz lives in isolated life with only his Wit-partner, Nighteyes, and his adopted son, Hap, for company. He is a shadow of his former self, past events having left him with a strong distaste for loyalty and politics. He thinks his isolated existence is the happiness and stability he deserves after years of painful service to the Farseer throne, but the true tragedy is, he’s not happy, not really. Without the love of his former friends and relatives, he’s sunken so deep into himself that he barely recalls how to exist. Hobb spends a long time unfolding the strands of Fitz’s life, re-introducing the character in a slow but never lethargic manner. The plot trickles slowly in those first few comfortable chapters as Fitz recites the events of the last fifteen years to the Fool, but when he eventually returns to the ruins of his former life in Buckeep, the plot whips into motion and he is tasked with locating Prince Dutiful, his sort-of son, in time for his wedding to an Outislander princess.

Though the Red Ship War came to an end in the first trilogy, Fitz returns to a world that is anything but peaceful. Tensions between the Witted folk and the non-Witted are boiling, forcing Fitz into yet another uncomfortable position. Fitz, as compelling and beautifully flawed as he ever was, faces the same questions he always has: Where should his loyalty lie? Do his own wants and needs come before his loyalty to those in power? It’s a stark continuation of Hobb’s ever-present themes of loyalty and choice, hailing from Fitz’s earliest days as an assassin’s apprentice.

Though the plot might feel a little lacklustre in comparison to the first trilogy, Fool’s Errand is a beautifully written book, showcasing Hobb’s storytelling powers and setting up the events of the next two novels in the trilogy. The characters are as real and powerful as ever, especially those that reappear from the first trilogy, characters many readers unashamedly fell in love with. Chade, no longer a creature of the shadows, continues to command Fitz’s respect despite a lust for the skill magic that grows within him like a disease. Nighteyes remains one of the best conveyed characters despite being a wolf. Years since his bonding with the protagonist, they’ve become equals after so many tribulations together, something that reviles many in the Witted community.

The Golden Fool (cover)The Golden Fool is the second entry in the trilogy. Set primarily in Buckeep, the story revolves around Fitz’s new position as Skillmaster and his difficult relationship with his unlikely pupils. Serving as a bridge between Errand and Fool’s Fate, the novel should not be underestimated in terms of quality and readability. It’s no awkward middle instalment, but it doesn’t quite soar in the same way that Royal Assassin, the second entry in the Farseer Trilogy did.

Hobb’s true triumph in this entry is the relationship between Fitz and the Fool. Once as strong as crystal, Fitz begins to question just who his beloved fool is, especially when a host of familiar faces arrive from Bingtown to request Farseer aid in their war against Chalced. The shifting nature of their relationship forms the crux of the whole trilogy, not unlike Fitz’s relationship with Molly in the first trilogy. Often, the Witted plotlines are pale and underwhelming in contrast to the Fitz-Fool dynamic. There’s little action in Golden Fool, but the conflict arises through Fitz dealing and often failing, with a great amount of changes, particularly in terms of his relationships to the people around him.

In the final instalment, Fool’s Fate, Fitz’s story takes a darker, grittier turn. On a quest in the Out-Islands, Fitz faces his darkest enemy. This is a volatile, unpredictable story that has no mercy for either the characters or the reader. It’s a grim journey for both, one that only truly takes flight about halfway through, but when it does, Hobb’s brutal, matter-of-fact prose will impress.

Fool’s Fate (cover)The conclusion is outstanding – emotional, bittersweet and completely satisfying, a verbal tour-de-force that began, years ago, with young Fitz arriving in Buckeep. Hobb manages to write a character that not only changes, but grows with the story, and with the reader. His relationship with the Fool is, once again, the highlight of the book. The trilogy is very much about Fitz discovering who the Fool really is, and who they are to each other. The theme of fate and destiny is prevalent, but it’s never so blatant that it’s cringe-worthy. The characters have a sense that they have a role to play, but they have every choice to walk away from it and make their own life.

Hobb’s talents lie in the first-person. The Liveship Traders suffered because she couldn’t make us believe in the protagonists as we looked in from the outside. It’s advisable to read that trilogy though, as plot threads reappear in The Tawny Man with severe consequences. There’s a real feeling that the two worlds are deeply entwined, even if worldbuilding has never been Hobb’s strongest feat.

With Fool’s Assassin, the first instalment in the final Fitz trilogy due in August, readers can finally say farewell. It’s unclear where Hobb will take the story, but it’s guaranteed that Fitz will endure yet more heartbreak and tragedy before the end. In the case of Fitzchivalry Farseer, heartbreak has never been of such high quality.


Fool’s Errand: Rating: 8/10
The Golden Fool: 7/10
Fool’s Fate: 10/10
Overall: 9/10



  1. Avatar Davieboy says:

    Thanks for this review – I’m halfway through Royal Assassin, book 2 of the first trilogy. I only skimmed your review as I don’t want spoilers for the 1st trilogy but it seems I have a lot of good stuff to look forward to as I progress through Hobb’s works.

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