My rating: 4 stars
The Six Duchies and their neighbouring territories may be part of a fictional world, but they truly come to life in Assassin’s Quest, the last book in The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb. Although the pacing is not always perfect, it has a well-defined direction since the beginning, which isn’t the case of the previous instalment, Royal Assassin. Through Fitz’s narration, it delves into the difference between duty and greed for power, a theme already touched on in the first book in the trilogy, Assassin’s Apprentice. Such an immersive read is a welcome invitation to continue to explore the Realm of the Elderlings.
In the prologue of the book, a much older Fitz muses about his past, what he suffered at Regal’s hands and the kindness that Lady Patience, his father’s wife, showed him on many occasions. He is still unsure about whether he should have thanked Burrich and Chade for what they did or not. The role of narrator is then assumed by a younger Fitz. He recalls how he escaped his prior predicament, and readers are reminded of the final events of the previous book.
Fitz resented never having been able to make his own decisions. But was this true? Chade tried to make him see that he had always done that. If he had strictly followed the orders he had been given, events wouldn’t have taken place in the way they did. He had always acted as a boy. It was time to grow up, though. Burrich decided that it was best for them to follow separate paths.
When he was left by himself, only with the wolf Nighteyes as a companion, Fitz’s first resolution was foolish to say the least. He decided to kill Regal, who had moved to Tradeford. He didn’t start his journey immediately. He remained in the hut he had been staying in with Burrich for a long while, having almost lost sense of time. Before leaving, he decided to try to Skill again to confirm if Verity was still alive. Even though he succeeded, he was still adamant that revenge took precedence over joining Verity.
On his way to find Regal, he stopped at a town where he met a blind minstrel and his travel companions, Honey and Piper. He took the opportunity to discover what had been happening around the country. The minstrel told him that the Red Ships continued raiding the coastal towns, now almost freely. Only the Lady of Buckkeep, Patience, tried to do something to stop them. She sold all that she could to pay for patrol ships. As the forged ones were now being seen inland as well, they asked Fitz, who gave them a false name, to accompany them on their journey. Seeing that they were going in the same direction, he reluctantly accepted.
After having said his farewells to the minstrels, he crossed paths with a man who also had the Wit, one of the two main types of magic present in this world. He called it the Old Blood. Unlike Fitz, he knew all about it, his mother had taught him throughout many years, and he was interested in explaining everything to him if he stayed living nearby. Fitz refused, however.
During his journey, Fitz met various new characters, the most noteworthy being Starling and Kettle. The minstrel Starling is clever and enigmatic. On the surface, she seemed to be nonchalant and at ease with herself, but deep down she was suffering, which made her act peculiarly on various occasions. Old Kettle has an interesting backstory, which remains a secret for a long while. It ends up being of extreme relevance for the development of the plot.
At the beginning of the novel, Fitz was deeply traumatised because of what had happened to him. He felt a strong desire to let his past fade into oblivion. The memories were too painful, his situation seemed to be only less unbearable if he avoided being conscious. His bravery was hindered by panic attacks and fear of experiencing pain, but it resurfaces throughout the book. Robin Hobb managed to make his struggles at the time believable by portraying them vividly.
“The memories I could not summon by day lurked as fragments of sounds and colours and textures that tormented me by night.”
Fitz is not portrayed as an unflawed heroic figure, which makes this book even more convincing. At the time of the events, he had a hard time understanding the actions of other characters, how they were trying to help him while not doing what he wanted them to. He took their actions almost as a deliberate way of hurting his feelings. Although he was deeply kind-hearted, he was reckless. It also took him a long time to understand what was happening around him. Readers are given the necessary clues to figure out certain events before he did, which aids his characterisation.
Fitz’s interactions with the other characters, even minor ones, are gripping. Not only do the dialogues feel authentic, but the conversations are easy to visualise, since the surroundings and the demeanours of the characters are most often than not painstakingly described. At times, the narration is even deeply atmospheric.
“It was the right sort of night for such a tale. The moon was swollen and orange and riding low in the sky, while the wind brought us the mournful lowing and shifting of the cattle in their pens mixed with the stench of rotting blood and tanning hides. High tattered clouds drifted from time to time across the face of the moon. The storyteller’s words put a shiver up my back, probably for a different reason than he thought.”
The story is broader in scope than it seems at first. Despite Fitz not being in direct contact with various characters from the previous books, we have glimpses from what was happing to them thanks to him using the Skill, sometimes almost without wishing to. Also, Robin Hobb made sure to have Fitz recall various previous events, which some may find repetitive but which I cherished, since I had forgotten about a couple of them and it mirrors how people also tend to think about their past.
In spite of being a fantasy series, The Farseer Trilogy realistically explores the behaviours of human beings, both the virtuous and the destructive ones. Throughout the history of this fictional world, people seemed to keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again. For that reason, some characters shared the belief that someone would lead people to a better future. This book doesn’t escape the trope of the chosen one, but presents it in an interesting way.
“Just as the seasons come and go, just as the moon moves endlessly through her cycle, so does time. The same wars are fought, the same plagues descend, the same folk, good or evil, rise to power. Humanity is trapped on that wheel, doomed endlessly to repeat the mistakes we have already made. Unless someone comes to change it.”
Though Assassin’s Quest is excessively slow paced in some instances, particularly when Fitz is alone on the road with Nighteyes, it is overall stimulating, immersive and gripping. This rewarding and exciting ending to the trilogy left me eager to continue reading Robin Hobb’s work.