Robin Hobb, Fitz and the Fool,
I started reading the Farseer trilogy in 2000. Over the years, and after the completion of the Tawny Man trilogy, Fitz and the Fool became "old friends", the kind we readers have when we often re-read books, old friends we like, sometimes dislike, but always come back to.
When this new trilogy began being published, I waited. Three years until it was completed at which moment I started on it, read it all in six days and ended in tears.
In order that there wouldn't be any spoilers (except for one thing happening in the Tawny Man trilogy), this review deals mainly in feelings and impressions: it may feel a bit frustrating at how vague it is. But better vague than spoilerish.
At first, I was so happy. After more than ten years of re-reading, here were again the characters I love but in new adventures. The first volume has its flaws: nothing much happens except for some big bursts and then goes back to placid waters. The second volume has a better pace, but it can go awry too. But I was happy to overlook that because those were "old friends". It's the kind of thing that only a confident and established writer with established characters can do, I suppose. Happily, the last volume gets over this pacing problem: at 800 pages or so, it is full to bursting with action and dashing to and fro. It is, in short, everything that was missing to me in the first two volumes as far as pacing is concerned. It's one of the advantages of binge reading: you don't have time to dwell on such issues.
So if you've put off reading the last volume because you were a bit scalded by Fool's Assassin and Fool's Quest paces, delay no longer.
Everyone knows fantasy stories have no link to the real world!
The previous two trilogies dealt in universal themes that fitted pretty much any place that has humans in them: love, loss, vengeance, fitting in, being different. This latest trilogy is no different, though it departs a bit from the previous themes by adding to the theme of loss the theme of illness, and particularly illnesses that reminded a lot of dementia and cancer.
Another thing I enjoyed was that the queer aspects were much more underlined than in the previous trilogies which often felt like a traditional heteronormative fantasy with a twist of queerness. This world may not have the words for queer or ace but you'd have to be blind to miss them here.
The Buck people's dark skin is also often emphasized, much more than previously, particularly because some characters' skin is put in contrast with other characters coming from other places. It left me wondering if the covers are whitewashed or if I'm reading too much in this "dark skin". I suppose that will be the perfect excuse to read again the three trilogies from cover to cover!
Annoying and frustrating sometimes too
Apart from the pace issues in Fool's Assassin and Fool's Quest, there were other things that annoyed or frustrated me in this new trilogy.
A new character appears and becomes an internal narrator too: there's not only Fitz's voice but this new character's too. I accepted it, but this new character does have a lot of Fitz's faults: sometimes moping, a bit too self centred, and oh so angsty as the trilogy progresses. It grated a bit, particularly at the end of the trilogy where, I thought, it took a bit away from the emotion. I also have to admit being (as often) annoyed by Fitz about this new character as I wanted to shout to him: "How come you don't realise what that character is? Are you blind or stupid? You've known someone like that for ages!"
Another thing that annoyed me a bit are the death of two characters I love (no, not that third one, I don't really care about that character) that were, to me, a bit too swiftly dealt with, a bit swept under the rug. I felt they deserved a bit more, but I suppose it's a very subjective reaction.
A last thing that annoyed me is that a beloved character (tee hee... ) takes their sweet time to be back to their old self. I wanted to see them as they always were. But I have to admit they were put through a heck of a wringer, so it was understandable.
A last Greatest Hits compilation before the band breaks up
The Fitz and the Fool trilogy, and particularly Fool's Quest and Assassin's Fate kept devoting time to characters from other books set in the Six Duchies world. Though they are characters from stories I also like a lot, I was here to read about Fitz and the Fool, not them. It was a bit frustrating though it perfectly tied all loose ends. It also had a meeting between two characters that was fannishly squee worthy.
But anyone who haven't read all of the stories set in the Six Duchies (and Kelsingra, and Bingtown...) world may also feel frustrated as they'll be plunged right in the middle of conflicts and tensions between characters they're not familiar with and that won't have much emotional impact, though Hobb worked very hard to include snippets to make them understandable... Which, in turn is also frustrating to a seasoned reader: "I know all that... *skip, skip, skip*"
In this Greatest Hits compilation, how much did I miss Nighteyes! He has always been my favourite character with the Fool. We do have bits and pieces of him, as we did in the last two volumes of the Tawny Man, and a bit more, but not enough for this reader, never enough.
Oh, the feels!
I never thought I'd write "Oh, the feels!" in a review. But here I am doing just that, because those are the words that feel perfectly right for the Fitz and the Fool trilogy, and particularly for Assassin's Fate, and particularly for the last fifty pages.
A few hours before finishing Assassin's Fate, I was saying to a friend: "I have about 100 pages left to read. I dread them: Hobb tends to drag her endings. It feels as if there's something big still coming, but knowing how she usually writes her endings, I'm afraid nothing much will really happen." How wrong was I! I spent the last 50 pages in tears. I could say that I cried as much as when Nighteyes died, but actually I cried more. I never thought such a thing was possible, especially considering I'm not exactly an emotional reader.
But it was the end of a two decade journey and a perfect ending for it.
This ending was one for Hobb herself. It was also one for the fans. Will the emotional aspect work as well on more recent fans, who haven't spend as long as we did with those characters? I don't know.
What I know is that it left me a mess, but it was, as I said, the perfect ending of a two decade journey. Thank you, Ms Hobb.
The writer's website.
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