Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Assassin’s Fate by Robin Hobb

Rating

Review

*** This review originally appeared on Out of this World Reviews. ***

Assassin’s Fate by Robin Hobb is, first and foremost, a book about closure. But as much as it is about endings, it’s also about new beginnings. Really, it’s the perfect sendoff for a character that is much beloved and one which many of us have spent countless pages journeying along with. Assassin’s Fate is the third and final book in The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy, but it is also the final book (for now, anyway) in the Farseer books as a whole. Hobb has created such a rich world, full of so many memorable, engaging characters, though, that I could easily see additional books coming from her set in the various worlds of the Six Duchies, Rain Wilds, or Kelsingra. Speaking of all of those places, Assassin’s Fate is worthy of a Marvel film in that it intertwines the various worlds Hobb has concocted and spent entire series delving into by giving us the penultimate crossover as Fitz comes face to face with many of the characters from both the Liveship Traders books and the Rain Wild Chronicles. It really is a treat to see all of these disparate worlds come together into a seamless whole. I’ll admit I felt a bit of a thrill when Fitz revisits the map room in Kelsingra, the very same room he visited all those many years (and books) ago when he and Chade first began experimenting with the Skillstones.

Unlike the previous two books in this series, I’m giving Assassin’s Fate a solid five rockets. The reason previous installments fell short was because there were just too many pages where nothing significant happens. Not so with this final book. This one is full of plot moving material as we pick up right where Fool’s Quest left off. Fitz has healed a number of Kelsingra’s residents whose dragon initiated changes have done more harm than good. This is applauded by the Kelsingrans, but not so much by the dragons, who threaten Fitz’s life for interfering with the changes they have made in their keepers. Fitz escapes this harrowing predicament unscathed, for he must continue his quest for vengeance against those who killed his daughter, Bee. Of course, Bee is not actually dead, a fact Fitz eventually comes to know.

Speaking of Bee… She’s a character I did not like much in the first two books. She’s a bit of an oddity most of the time and, when she isn’t off doing her own thing, she’s a distraction to Fitz’s story. But in Assassin’s Fate she really comes into her own, seizing her place in the world as it were, as she flies into a final confrontation with her abductors. Looking back at the whole, I found her story arc refreshing. She’s admittedly very dependent early on, but when it comes time for her to stand up for herself, she does so admirably well.

Discussing the ending of Assassin’s Fate is tough because I don’t want to give anything away. I’ll say only this: Hobb concludes the series and the story of FitzChivalry Farseer in the only way she could. It’s a marvelous ending for a character you’ve hopefully grown to love as much as I have. Yes, Fitz can be frustrating beyond belief at times, stupid at others, and selfless past the point of heartbreak, but he’s also a man of duty and honor (in the way of an assassin, at least) and possesses a stubbornness that knows no bounds. If this book is truly his farewell, then I say Hobb gave him the royal treatment. The road getting there was harrowing, suspenseful, horrible, and wonderful, but completely worth it from a reader’s perspective when you can look back at everything he accomplished.

It should come as no surprise that I feel Assassin’s Fate should be on every fantasy reader’s reading list. Do yourself a favor and start with the first book in the overarching series, the first book in The Farseer Trilogy, Assassin’s Apprentice. The journey will be well worth every page.

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

Rating

Review

*** This review originally appeared on Out of this World Reviews. ***

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden is the second novel in the Winternight Trilogy. The first book in the series, The Bear and the Nightingale, earned a rare five rocket rating from us because it’s that good. Well, Ms. Arden has done it again: The Girl in the Tower continues the elegant storytelling and magnificent worldbuilding of the first book and earns another five rocket rating for the second installment in the Winternight Trilogy. In the interests of full disclosure, we received a copy of The Girl in the Tower from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

The reader is drawn back into the story right where the first book ended. Vasya has left her home for fear of what might happen to her with her father gone and because her wild streak demands she set out to see more of the world than just her small corner of it. Though she sets out to see far distant corners, she doesn’t make it any further than the region surrounding Moscow when mysterious riders take an unexpected interest in her. With bandits burning villages indiscriminately and Vasya’s brother, Sasha, soon at hand, Vasya finds herself embroiled in Moscow’s plots and machinations, and the designs she’d had for her life fall by the wayside.

Morozko is back, as are many other beings taken from Russian folklore. As before, only Vasya can communicate with them. They are an integral part of the story, but not nearly as much as in the first book. There is a deeper mystery in this book, however, one which I won’t go into to any degree for fear of giving something away. I will say only that it has something to do with the title of the book.

Vasya remains a strong and brave character, but one who is extremely vulnerable if only because of the constraints put upon all women of that time period. She does achieve a certain amount of freedom beyond the norm, but only when she is on her own (or subsisting with Morozko’s help). The moment she steps back into society, she quickly finds herself shackled. Any other woman would accept such imprisonment, yet because of her resolve and willingness to sacrifice herself, Vasya breaks free of such constraints and ultimately achieves things that no other person can.

I think it’s important to close with a look at what the author is doing to make this such a great series so far. There’s the setting: Russia, set in a time period that has the flavor of the middle ages. There’s the mythology and folklore, which, despite the influence of Christianity, brings with it a great amount of superstition. Also, there’s the characters, which defy stereotypes in many respects. Last, there’s the writing, which is consistently good and always moving the story forward. Getting any one of these right is not that hard. But getting them all right? It’s not common.

The Girl in the Tower is another fantastic read from a true up and coming author. If you haven’t started reading these books, you need to start now. It’s rare a series this good comes along, so don’t miss it.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Rating

Review

*** This review originally appeared on Out of this World Reviews. ***

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden is very much a story in the Uprooted vein. At its simplest, we have a rebellious daughter with hidden talents who must align herself with mythological, dubious intentioned entities else lose the lives of her family, her people, and quite possibly her very way of life. At its simplest, that is the story Arden has crafted, but The Bear and the Nightingale is so much more than that simple synopsis. Set in a rich world full of tradition, politics, and magic, the author strikes the perfect balance between nuanced, vibrant characters with complex motives and personalities and a plot that continuously moves forward.

Vasilisa Petrovna’s birth is marked by death when her mother dies giving her life. Her mother, Marina, who is possessed of special gifts, knows Vasilisa, or Vasya, will be her last child and that she will not survive the ordeal, but she gives birth to her daughter anyway because she knows the gifts Vasya will bring into the world will be even greater than her own. Vasya is raised a wild child. Not because of her father’s lack of tutelage but because she is a creature that will not be controlled. Often she slips into the woods on her own, walking the forest paths and meeting the mythological dwellers there that only she can see. On one such walk she comes upon a great tree and a one-eyed man sleeping at its base. The man is no man at all, but a demon who slumbers now but is slowly waking. Once he does wake, he promises “everlasting life” to any who follow him. His offer is not what it may seem, of course, and so Vasya finds herself in opposition to the waking demon.

Vasya is a headstrong woman in a world where such initiative is not often desired nor praised unless such person is a man. But Konstantin, Vasya’s daughter, is an understanding man who knows his daughter’s fire comes from her mother. I liked Konstantin a lot. He is very much walking a line of his own between the traditional world he lives in and a more progressive one where he sees his daughter’s wild spirit free to do as she pleases. The times when he considers his Vasya toiling over a hot stove and seeing to her children and husband’s needs he is stricken with a heavy heart, for he knows the great potential Vasya possesses would be wasted on such a life. At the very end, Konstantin knows what he has to do to set his daughter free forever; his love for her is strong enough that he never hesitates.

There are many other interesting characters: a priest whose story takes an unforeseen turn when he meets Vasya, a stepmother who embodies much of the atypical stepmother role so often seen in fairy tales, and an ensemble of brothers and sisters who are mostly supportive. Then there are the creatures whom only Vasya can see: vodianoy, vazila, upyrs aplenty, rusalka, and the brothers who are demons whom the real story revolves around. I’ll refrain from delving too much into any one of these, especially the brothers, for fear of giving something away, but suffice to say that the brothers are opposed to one another and Vasya finds herself caught in the middle.

Of the world Arden has built for her novel all I can say is very well done. Set in the world of Rus’, it is very much a Russia that may have existed to some degree but many aspects only in folklore. Still, it is a beautiful depiction of a deep winter world where families huddle together around their oven to sleep and stay warm and where the coming snow cuts off entirely the rural community Vasya calls home from the rest of the world.

The Bear and the Nightingale is historical fantasy fiction at its best. A vibrant world, rich characters, more than a hint of the supernatural, and an endearing main character who doesn’t have all the answers but isn’t afraid to find them makes this a must-read. Vasya’s story continues in The Girl in the Tower. It’s already on my reading list.