Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb

Rating

Review

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

Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb is the second book in the Fitz and the Fool trilogy. In some ways this book is a departure from the first novel in the series, Fool’s Assassin. In other ways, it is more of the same. This second book picks up right where Fool’s Assassin left off, with our two main characters just arrived in Buckkeep and Fitz’s daughter, Bee, just having been kidnapped by the very same people the Fool escaped from after a long ordeal of imprisonment and torture. Where Fool’s Quest differs from Fool’s Assassin is in the amount of forward progress we make in the story. Where Fool’s Assassin felt like a really long preamble, Fool’s Quest hits the ground running, and doesn’t stop moving until somewhere in the middle of the book. At that point the reader is eased back into Hobb’s methodically slow but still engaging storytelling up until the end when Fitz sets out to hunt down his daughter’s kidnappers and bring her safely home.

Because of the pacing, I tore through the first half of Fool’s Quest very quickly. There is so much setup done in the first book that Hobb (thankfully) uses this one to have Fitz finally take action. There’s still plenty of introspection (Fitz seems to find a way to blame himself for most everything bad that ever happens to anyone) but there’s also plenty of the “old” Fitz: the King’s assassin who will do his duty no matter the personal cost.

The Fool plays prominently in this book as well. His involvement in the larger storyline was hinted at plenty of times in the first book, but he never took center stage like he does here. Long time readers of the series will know the Fool well, though the character’s circumstances have changed significantly and not for the better. Having suffered at the hands of the Servants, the Fool is a broken man both physically and spiritually. Despite this, though, he remains driven by a singular purpose: revenge against his tormentors. The Fool and Fitz, reunited at the end of Fool’s Assassin, are at their best when together, their purpose while not exactly unified is at least headed in the same direction. Theirs is a relationship which has stood so many tests that it’s only a matter of time before their purposes become unified, whether by intention or trickery. Still, they do become unified as they head into a final confrontation with the Servants (presumably in the next book).

In many ways Fool’s Quest brings a lot of Hobb’s work full circle. Early on in the Fitz series, the reader is introduced to a lost Elderling city which Fitz visits via a Skill pillar. Later, the city is found by more conventional means and re-settled in the Rain Wilds Chronicles. Now, Fitz travels there once more, but this time instead of traversing a deserted city, Fitz meets many of the characters readers of Hobb’s earlier works know well. It’s a gratifying experience and one which gives the reader a sense of the scope of world building Hobb has slowly revealed to us over fifteen or so books.

There were numerous times while reading Fool’s Quest that I felt Hobb had earned a four rocket review from me, but I ultimately settled on three (the same rating I gave the previous book) because there just isn’t enough happening overall. Despite the book’s title, the quest doesn’t really begin until almost the end. If Hobb had moved things along more rapidly while not sacrificing her usual rich content, I would have given it a solid four rockets. But given what I feel is much room for improvement in that regard, I’m giving it three. Long time readers of Hobb’s will love this book. Others probably were discouraged enough with the slow pacing of the first book in the series that they didn’t make it this far to begin with. In any case, I’ve got the next book in the series, Assassin’s Fate, lined up for reading and reviewing soon.

Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb

Rating

Review

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

Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb is the first novel in Hobb's Fitz and the Fool series, her latest to tell the ongoing story of her beloved character, FitzChivalry Farseer. Hobb began Fitz's journey many books and series ago when the character was a child. All throughout, Fitz has built relationships, made enemies, served his king, loved and lost, and, above all, made nearly every sacrifice imaginable. It's been a long, hard road for the bastard son of Chivalry Farseer, but one that I can say with great relief isn't over yet.

Fool's Assassin picks up not terribly long after Fool's Fate. Fitz has settled into his persona as Tom Badgerlock, holder for the lands of his daughter, Nettle. Because of his past (and everyone thinking he's dead), Fitz must maintain this false identity for his own good and the good of the Farseers. Far from being resentful of it, Fitz has embraced the life of a holder since it keeps him far from the court intrigue and politics so prevalent in Buckkeep Castle. Even better, Fitz has been reunited with the love of his life, Molly, who now resides with him at Withywoods, where they lead an idyllic life. It would seem Fitz, who has sacrificed so much, has finally earned the quiet life he has wanted for so long.

That, in fact, how we find Fitz and Molly getting on for nearly the first half of the book. True to the author's style, Hobb moves us along very slowly. Longtime fans will not be surprised by this at all. It's a testament to Hobb's skill as a writer, though, that even sans many of the plot devices other authors dangle in front of readers to keep their attention, she is able to maintain the reader's interest over hundreds of pages while slowly doling out bits and pieces of the larger story to come. When the end of this first novel in the Fitz and Fool trilogy does come, it comes fast. It left me deeply interested in what's to come next for Fitz as he is finally reunited with his longtime friend, the Fool.

I will freely admit bias when reviewing anything penned by Robin Hobb as she has long been a favorite author of mine. Not that I've embraced everything she's ever written, but I, like so many other readers, has been on Fitz's journey for so long that I doubt there's any story she could tell about him that I didn't find of interest.

Even still, Fool's Assassin earned a rating of three rockets. I would have given it four if only Hobb had cut to the chase a bit and gotten to the real story sooner.

What's your favorite book or series of all time?

As a reader, this is probably the hardest question someone could ask me. I have no problem listing out my favorite books. Even putting them in some sort of order by whittling them down to a Top 10 list wouldn't be too terribly difficult. But narrowing the list down to a single book or series? That's infinitely harder.

Over the years many books have made it into my 'inner circle'. They haven't always stayed there, though. Like most readers, my tastes have changed as I’ve gotten older. Books I considered “the best” when I was a teenager or earlier no longer carry that distinction. That doesn’t mean those novels do not still have a place on my shelf. In fact, many of those books remain important to me if only because of the memories associated with them.

I got my start with "Where The Wild Things Are".

It’s not really a novel, I know, but this book and myself could not be separated when I was younger. I don’t even remember what it’s about, but I do remember carrying it around, reading it, and looking at the pictures many, many times.

From there, I moved on to the Prydain Chronicles. Something about a cauldron that could turn the living into the undead hooked me.

The Chronicles of Prydain

In fact, I re-read the series not too long ago. While the novels were meant for a younger audience, I still found them enjoyable. I have little doubt why these books, which I’d have to say were the first fantasy novels I’d ever read, inspired me to keep going in the genre. But for all their influence, they are not my favorite. Amongst my favorites because of the nostalgia factor, sure. But not at the top of the list.

I also spent a fair amount of time reading most of the various Shannara books.

There's something about those three Shannara books that they'll always have a place on my bookshelf. But where I know I read The Sword of Shannara at least a half a dozen times if not more, I wouldn't count it or its series as my favorite.

Then there's the Lord of the Rings, which oddly enough I read only after I'd read the first Shannara trilogy. Go figure.

While these novels are absolutely seminal to so much that came after them (the Shannara series included, especially considering The Sword of Shannara was written as a shameless homage to Tolkien's work), I wouldn't consider these my absolute favorite. They're certainly up there. But not at the very top.

Then there's the Dragonlance novels.

The original November 1984 first printing paperback cover of "Dragons of Autumn Twilight" Dragons of Winter Night cover.jpg DragonsofSpringDawning original.jpg

What can I say about these novels which hasn't been said already? Yes, they're full of clichéd characters, are horribly written (I tried re-reading them a couple of years ago but gave up), and probably a whole host of other unseemly things, but damn they were formative for me. Absolutely inspiring I'd say as well. But, again, not my favorite.

About the same time I started reading Dragonlance I was also introduced to Conan.

Now these books absolutely remain amongst my favorites of all time. While you can see some of the inconsistencies introduced when De Camp compiled the stories and finished those tales left undone by Howard, the series is still huge for me. Still, while I've read these books over and over and never tire of them, they aren't at the very top of my list.

Even still, Conan led into many of Howard's other works, including Bran Mak Morn, Solomon Kane, and Kull. Further down that path I found Elric.

The Elric series of novels is fantastic. Simply some of the best fantasy ever written, IMO. While I would put at least one of the Elric novels in my Top 10 or maybe even Top 5, there's one thing which keeps Elric from the top position. This is the fact that the character is so otherworldly and fantastic that I, as a simple human, cannot relate to him. Much like Conan, Elric is a character I admire (or pity), but I could never imagine myself in their place. This inaccessibility is a hurdle I can't get over.

I could go on. Like anyone who's been reading voraciously all of their lives the number of books I've read is up in the stratosphere somewhere. So let me get to it.

Answering the question of this post isn't easy, but, for me it's doable.

My favorite series (I could never select just one book) is the Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb.

Full of rich characters, a deep history, wonderful worldbuilding, and some of the finest storytelling I've ever read, this series of novels has stayed with me more so than any other because of all of those things but also because of the ending, which I won't give away but which I will say is something that I still think about now and again. In my mind, it’s the best, worst, most bittersweet ending I’d ever read. That in itself puts it at the absolute top of my list of favorites.

So, what's your all-time favorite?

Book Review: Renegade's Magic by Robin Hobb

An SFFWorld Favorite for 2007, Renegade's Magic concludes the story of Nevare Burvelle who is fated to become a Soldier Son in his king's army. Life takes some unexpected turns, however, as Nevare is called to a different destiny. Drawn by magic to the frontier, where his king is waging war against the Specks, Nevare finally succumbs to the forces taken control of him and, instead of fighting his king's enemies, he joins them. Thus begins Renegade's Magic.

Renegade's Magic is a continuation in excellence--excellent storytelling, excellent prose, excellent characters. Hobb has created a world that transcends the classic good vs. evil model, where everyone has the potential for either. If there is any weakness at all in this trilogy it's that, in the end, no one is really "evil". Characters may do despicable things, but, once we understand their viewpoint, I found myself often sympathizing with them regardless of what they'd done or why they'd done it. It makes it hard to want any one individual to come out, in the end, as the victor. The truth of the matter, though, is that there are multiple victors. But victory comes at a price. No one is left unscathed, least of all Nevare, who sacrifices much, oftentimes without even fully comprehending what is happening to him or why (not until the very end, anyway).

Magic plays a dominant role in the Soldier Son Trilogy. So much so that magic itself becomes an entity unto itself. The manner in which magic is mastered is both unique and intriguing, though I have to admit I was a little put off by it at first. I hate to throw out a spoiler (so I won't), but suffice to say magic actually transforms the wielder physically. The end result is a hero who, well, doesn't appear very heroic. I don't think there's any doubt Hobb was making a statement here about our own society, and how we often judge people by their outward appearance. This failing of our own society also exists in Nevare's world, except that only Nevare's own people loathe the change that has overcome him. Their enemies, the Specks, actually hold him in great reverence. It makes for an interesting dichotomy in terms of the storytelling and character development.

Past experience with Robin Hobb's work really had me expecting a bittersweet ending (think Fitz in the The Farseer Trilogy). Instead, I was pleasantly surprised. I won't go so far as to say the ending is all roses (even roses have thorns), but there is a certain gratification I felt as I finished the final sentence. Nevare's world may have been turned upside-down, but, with will and tenacity and a heavy dose of plain stubbornness, he comes out alright in the end.

Renegade's Magic was a worthy conclusion to an excellent story.

Book Review: Forest Mage by Robin Hobb

Forest Mage is the second novel in Robin Hobb's Soldier Son Trilogy. Other books in the series include Shaman's Crossing and Renegade's Magic.

The original cover for this book (no longer displayed) was important, I thought, because, more than any other cover I've seen for this series, it symbolized what the Soldier Son Trilogy is all about. You have a man--a cavalry soldier--sword drawn, facing the mists of the forest and the ominous mountains beyond. There is fire, carnage, and an overwhelming feeling that something is out there. Is it coming? Is it waiting for our cavalryman's charge? We don't know, but clearly the man senses the danger he's in else his sword would not be drawn.

The soldier, of course, represents Nevare. I say "represents" because Nevare never becomes that man--that soldier--shown on the cover. Something happens to him, something that was begun in Shaman's Crossing that spills over here. He never becomes the Soldier Son he was supposed to be. Instead, he changes in ways I won't report here least it take something away from your own reading. Suffice to say bad things happen. He's in a sorry state. Yet he battles on, searching for a solution to a dilemma begun in book one which has taken everything from him but his life. Even that, however, might be forfeit if he doesn't come to terms with who and what he has become.

Again, Hobb draws us in with her masterful storytelling. I honestly felt for Nevare's misfortune and kept turning the pages because I wanted to see him succeed. Sad to say, he doesn't. Not in the way we hope, anyway. Forest Mage, like any middle volume, is a bridge between book's one and two, though it does wrap up a good part of Nevare's misfortune (and one of his lives--read the book to understand that!) and sets him on the road to finality as told in Renegade's Magic.