‘Royal Assassin’ by Robin Hobb

My rating: 4 stars

Long books can be just the perfect size. Either the stories within couldn’t possibly be told in fewer pages or the pacing is so exquisite that they never feel dull. Unfortunately, that is not the case with Royal Assassin, the second book in The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb. In fact, it could have been an outstanding fantasy book had it been much shorter. For almost half of it, the pacing is lopsided and the plot doesn’t seem to have a defined, clear direction. The rest of the novel, however, is superb, enthralling and affecting.

Following the events of Assassin’s Apprentice and what Prince Regal had done to him, Fitz was left wondering whether he should return to Buckkeep or not. He also questioned what to do regarding Molly. Not being sure about which path to take, he told Burrich to return to Buckkeep while he continued to recover. Nevertheless, after learning through a vision that Siltbay, the town Molly was in, was being raided, he decided to return with Burrich after all.

Not only was he then reunited with Verity (one of the few people who knew what Regal had done) and Patience, but he was also surprised to discover that Molly was at the keep as well, working as a maid. She had gone to Siltbay to help some relatives with the harvest. After the town was raided, however, she returned to ask for his help. It was only then that she learnt that he was not the scriber’s boy but the bastard of Prince Chivalry. She felt betrayed.

Life at Buckkeep was not simple. King Shrewd, who was not feeling well, finally summoned Fitz after a while and had a mission for him – to deal with a warrior who had turn prophetess at Ripplekeep and to copy a scroll about the days of the Elderling for Verity. Forged ones also posed a serious threat. They were not to blame, however, since their humanity had been stolen from them. They were still their neighbours and family. The enemies were the raiders of the Red Ships. Moreover, court intrigue remained a strong destabilising force.

Magic plays an important part in the story, reason why the prologue features a brief explanation of the two most significant types – the Skill and the Wit. Those trained in the Skill can reach another’s mind regardless of distance. Some can even influence their way of thinking. This magic is closely linked to the Farseer royal family. The Wit, an older type of magic, is based on a kinship with beasts.

The first chapters are also used to summarise what happened in the previous book and to set the plot in motion, albeit with an uneven and irritating pacing, which is a problem for a long while. During the first half of the novel, sometimes nothing seems to happen and then an interesting occurrence just happens too quickly, without proper and careful elaboration. For that reason, the book feels directionless at times. Despite this irregular structure of the plot line, there are still moments of amazing talent and, occasionally, even the appropriate time is spent with the interactions between certain characters. The last third of the book is, in fact, gripping and amazing, both in terms of pacing, storyline and characterisation.

Although the emotions of the characters initially don’t seem as real as in the first book, this changes as the story progresses. The way in which Fitz and Molly interact and the misunderstandings that arise between them feel forced at first. But their relationship becomes increasingly more engaging. Their feelings end up being painstakingly and genuinely portrayed.

The interactions between Fitz and the other characters can be as affecting. Patience’s concern for Fitz is endearing from the very beginning. His relationship with Kettricken is as stimulating. While he attempted to help her understand the ways of the Court and, thus, to aid the King to retain and even increase his support, Kettricken tried to adapt to her new position and learn how to be respected. Verity also shared moments of paramount importance with Fitz, which made clear that being the King-in-waiting felt like a burden to him. If he could, he would choose a different path. And then there are also critical exchanges between Fitz, the Fool, Chade and Burrich, which kept me eagerly turning the pages.

Fitz had to deal with many emotions, not all of them pleasant. The empathy that he showed for the suffering of others is highlighted by moments of poignant and touching prose.

“The desolation of her grief broke over me like a wave, sweeping my walls away and carrying me under with her.”

The second instalment in The Farseer Trilogy lacks a perfect pacing. But, when the story gains impetus, the relationships between the characters and the court intrigue turn a lacklustre novel into a fascinating one. The rendition of how some people want to rule to serve their people, while others want to have power for the sake of their egocentricity is convincing.

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