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Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb

Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb
Book Name: Fool’s Quest
Author: Robin Hobb
Publisher(s): Del Rey
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: August 11, 2015

This is a spoiler-free review of Fool’s Quest.

However there are spoilers for all prior Realm of the Elderling books.

What a privilege it is to review Robin Hobb’s sixteenth offering in the Farseer/Liveships world. There’s a real sense of time passing in her novels, and we are gifted again with another rounded, descriptive and exasperatingly good instalment.

In Fool’s Assassin, the Fool’s return to Fitzchivalry’s well-earned retirement promised a reunion between one of Fantasy’s best pairings. His reappearance brought upheaval to Fitz’s peaceful, sad, existence. In true Hobb fashion, this injected the plot with drama, tragedy and suffering when, whilst caring for the Fool in Buckkeep, Fitz’s daughter was kidnapped by raiders, the consequences of which vibrate through the entire novel. If Fool’s Assassin, matured Fitz and rebuilt him, it’s Quest that folds him back into danger, forces him to question his identity yet again, and, above all, refuses him that he surely deserves after saving his life for the crown, even dying for it, countless times.

The ever-present themes of duty, family and identity are present as Fitz balances making his king happy and looking for little Bee. Looking back on Fool’s Quest as a whole, there’s little plot progression. But this is usually the case when it comes to Hobb’s middle instalments. She has a tendency to build up and break Fitz and his world in the first instalment, and unravel it all in the second. In that, it’s most reminiscent of Royal Assassin from the original trilogy. There’s plenty of Buckkeep deceit and machinations, plenty more investigation into the Skill magic, and of course, it’s the characters that stand out as we watch their relationships with each other wax and wane like the moon chasing the sea. It all builds to quite the ending. Though Hobb’s cliff-hangers are better than most, they’re still, unfortunately, cliff-hangers.

Fitzchivalry, now sixty years old and gifted with the body of a much younger man, is as melancholic and exasperating a protagonist as ever. His humanity shines through the pages, he is, like the best of us, maddeningly flawed. His talent for deliberately withholding information to other characters, and not listening to those who clearly know better than he, is as bold and bright a trait as ever. This is the book where the characters really get behind Fitz. Watching him break as he copes with the disappearance of Bee is heart-rending, and it’s emotional to read as people prop Fitz up, instead of the other way around.

The Fool, a literary enigma, is the shadow of his former self. Tortured and broken by his own kind, his recovery is as important as Fitz’s quest to locate Bee. The attention to detail given in his illness and recovery are astonishing. The reader can feel every cracked bone, can wear his exhaustion like a coat, Hobb’s writing is that powerful. As always, both he and Fitz are at the centre of all machinations in the world. It’s a testament to her writing strength that she manages to super-charge the scale and up the tension with each trilogy that passes. Hobb’s worldbuilding is consistent and detailed without plunging the reader into nonsense facts and figures. If the reader gets a little lost in the mythology of the dragons and Skill magic, it’s only because she’s worked hard to make it complex, and all the best books deserve a little brain power.

Where Hobb stands on the brink of losing readers perhaps with a more casual interest in the affairs of the Six Duchies, is through her use of dramatic irony. The reader knows more about Bee (and the raiders) than Fitz. Watching him grope in the dark for answers is maddening, but there are enough unexpected twists and revelations to ensure Fool’s Quest remains a rewarding reading experience.

There’s the return of a handful of familiar faces, some going as far back as Assassin’s Apprentice. But it’s those that have remained in the books from the beginning that are the most compelling. Lord Chade is full of secrets, unsurprisingly. His ever-constant thirst for the Skill magic highlights the true dangers when dealing with such a gripping, magnanimous force. Skillmistress Nettle, Fitz’s first daughter with Molly (may Eda bless her soul) and Kettricken steal the Buckkeep show. Nettle is as bristly as her name, one of Hobb’s most rounded and best-developed characters. Kettricken, often acting from the minds and hearts of the readers, does what most of us wish we could do, and spoons the forlorn Fitzchivalry through the night when yet more tragic news befalls him. Perseverance sticks around as the stubborn and plucky, almost younger manifestation of Fitz. Lant and Shun, denizens of Withywoods for their own survival, are undeveloped. They come off a little one-sided, especially Shun, but Hobb’s weaker characters are usually as good as more rounded characters in other fantasy books, so it makes slight difference overall.

While tragedy has always played a pivotal part in Fitz’s life, it remains to be seen whether Fitz himself will become a tragic character. Assassin’s Fate, due in 2017 according to Hobb’s response to a fan’s tweet, will likely be the final pages in Fitzchivalry’s industrious life. Fans should be ready to say goodbye, one way or another, to a character that has been an absolute gift to the fantasy community.


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