Genre: Epic Fantasy
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Date Published: March 1997
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Blurb (from Goodreads): King Shrewd is dead at the hands of his son Regal. As is Fitz—or so his enemies and friends believe. But with the help of his allies and his beast magic, he emerges from the grave, deeply scarred in body and soul. The kingdom also teeters toward ruin: Regal has plundered and abandoned the capital, while the rightful heir, Prince Verity, is lost to his mad quest—perhaps to death. Only Verity’s return—or the heir his princess carries—can save the Six Duchies.
But Fitz will not wait. Driven by loss and bitter memories, he undertakes a quest: to kill Regal. The journey casts him into deep waters, as he discovers wild currents of magic within him—currents that will either drown him or make him something more than he was.
Why I read it:I read Assassin’s Apprentice, and thought it was pretty good. Royal Assassin was better, easily a 5 star read. Of course I was going to finish this trilogy off!
My thoughts:I’m not quite sure how to write this review. Saying this was a 5 star read doesn’t do this book justice. Because while I have read some great 5 star reads this year, I didn’t enjoy them half as much as this one. If Robin Hobb consistently finishes trilogies like this (and I plan to find out very, very soon!) then she will be joining the ranks of Jacqueline Carey and Guy Gavriel Kay as my all-time favourite authors.
And before I gush about it some more, a warning: there's a few MAJOR spoilers for book two below. Read on at your own risk!
The end of Royal Assassin, book two in the Farseer Trilogy, saw Fitz “die” at Regal’s hand. He only survived because he used the Wit to escape into the mind of his wolf. However, this endurance came at a cost. The wider world (including most of his friends and allies) consider him long gone. And on a more personal level, Fitz’s time spent living as a wolf stripped him of his humanity; it’s unclear if he will ever fully regain his human side. In short, Fitz is a broken and changed man: barred from his home at Buckkeep and with little left to live for (or lose!). Which sucks for him (and I felt for Fitz, I really did!) but is a very dramatic place to begin a novel.
And it only gets better from there.
The plot builds slowly. It begins with Fitz’s convalescence under Burrich’s hand. Later, it follows Fitz inland as he quests for revenge. Regal stole his life and Verity’s kingdom; Fitz intends to make him pay. The result is a series of increasingly epic (mis)adventures through Farrow and the Mountain Kingdoms. There are even dragons!
There’s also a LOT more magic in this book, which made me very happy. In my review of Assassin’s Apprentice, I said the Wit bored me because it seemed like generic animal magic. But I take it all back! The Wit is awesome. It’s integral to the plot, and to Fitz, with strengths and flaws that are incredibly interesting. Fitz even meets others of the “Old Blood” during his journey, and learns just how little he knows about Witted folk and what they can do. It was great to finally get a glimpse of how the Wit was used outside the confined world of Buckkeep proper.
We also see more of the Skill and its capabilities. Fitz continues to show promise with the Skill, and his limited training continues to trip him up. Regal’s coterie, led by Will, is an increasing threat. However, the Skill-related plotlines are advanced mainly by a couple of new characters and various strange situations that Fitz encounters. It’s brilliant - I love this kind of fiddly, vicious mind magic. It’s so much fun to read about!!
There’s also some great character stuff in this book. Fitz is the core of the novel (and my heart broke for him. Repeatedly. Poor guy.) but the secondary characters remain brilliantly written. I have a soft spot in my heart for Verity, but I also enjoyed the two new female characters introduced. Kettle the crotchety old woman was excellently written, and Starling the bard had surprising depth.
We also learn a lot more about the Fool. He played a fairly minor role in the first two books, but really comes into his own here. Suddenly I understand why everyone raves about how awesome Fitz & the Fool are together! They become much closer in this novel, and I really appreciated the glimpse of love (and possibly romance?) shared between them. I also loved the (very unexpected!) discussion on gender the Fool comes out with in this book. I’ve always imagined him as your average straight and cis-male, because nobody has ever commented otherwise. But knowing his personal views of gender, and the fact that he was androgynous-enough that another character mistook him as a female, means I have to revise my internal image of who this person is. And that makes me very happy! I like it when books screw with your expectations, and obviously I’m a fan of queer-ish content in my fantasy.
The only thing I didn’t like was Fitz’s relationship with Molly, his lover and childhood friend from the previous two books. Her appearances in this book are brief. Fitz dreams of her occasionally, and remains deeply in love. But their relationship is deeply unequal. Molly doesn’t even know that Fitz is alive, and mainly exists to be threatened by Regal and cause Fitz some noble man-pain. However, I liked the way her plotline was concluded, so this criticism is given half-heartedly at best.
Also? You can look forward to an ending that is both satisfyingly epic and more than a bit melancholy. (I even cried a little.)
Seriously, I can’t recommend this book enough! Some of the best epic fantasy I’ve read in years.