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Book Review: Fool’s Assassin

Book Review: Fool’s Assassin

Fool's AssassinFitzChivalry is a bastard! I mean, technically he is a royal bastard, but a bastard nonetheless. Not only is he a bastard, he was once the king’s royal assassin. He thought he had left that life behind to pose as a country squire named Tom Bagerlock. He married his childhood sweetheart Molly, and things were going great until a strange messenger showed up at his doorstep with a message that is only for his ears. Fitz, who is so wrapped up in his masquerade, has the messenger wait until the morning and finds out that not only is the messenger missing, but presumed dead. Now to protect his new life, he must start reliving his old one.

From the description, this book sounds like it could be really good, but, in reality, it is mediocre at best, and by Hobb standards, it borders on sub-par. Like many before me, I fell in love with Hobb with the Fitz, the Fool, and the rest of this cast of characters through several previous series. Granted, some of the stories were better than others, but, like Star Wars, you don’t have to like every movie to love Star Wars. I’m going to have to guess that Ms. Hobb has long-term plans for this story, and that this book laid the foundation for the rest of this part of Fitz’s story. I have to believe that because if I don’t, then one of my beloved authors has sold out to the evil publishing gods for the seductive lure of the almighty dollar.

I can’t give this book a good review simply because Robin Hobb wrote it. I can’t even highly recommend it because it is really well written. Not even these two factors truly save this book. My poor reaction might be a matter of expectation management; I saw the name Robin Hobb and the title Fool’s Assassin and I had to read it. Seeing this title written by this author made me feel like I had just received an invitation from my high school buddies to spend a week down on the Texas coast in a luxury condo catching up on old times. I admire Hobbs’s writing and love Fitz’s character that much.

I have read other reviews that complained about the pacing of this book and repetition of themes and messages in this book, and most of them are spot on, but what really got me was the manic nature of so many of the characters. The emotional extremes and the bad choices that those highs and lows caused went way beyond tolerable. Hobb is a master of the first person, and few other authors can infuse the genuine emotional gravitas into their writing like Hobb can. In Fool’s Assassin, she overplayed those skills, and, in the end, I felt like three different people with three very different viewpoints about every character wrote this book.

It has been a good long while between books dealing with Fitz and the gang, and I understood Hobbs’s need to get readers caught up, but, in the catching up, she changed Fitz. Yes, Fitz was always torn between his nature and his duty, but in his “old age,” he turned into a sniveling little ninny who only remembered his lifelong training at the wrong times. This mix of “I’m always prepared for anything, but I don’t know what it is” while it is happening made Fitz into a character that I didn’t much care for. I understand that as we age, we change. I’m not the man at age forty that I thought I was at age twenty, but Hobbs’s portrayal of the changes wrought in Fitz were beyond reasonable. At times, I felt like she sat down and wrote this book in many, many sessions that were so spread out that she had completely forgotten what had happened the last time she wrote, and so she retold the same plot point and tried to show the same changes over and over again.

Bee Fitz’s daughter, another major character in the book, was telegraphed early on in the story, and the only people who didn’t see what was coming were all the characters who, at this point, are some of the most important people in the kingdom. I weep for the future of the Six Duchies! The circumstances of her birth are beyond strange, and at no point does Hobb explain them: Fitz, a now bookish fellow, does no research and simply puts on blinders to everything about her long gestation to her tiny size. One minute he loves her with all of his heart, the next he resigns himself to knowing that she will die soon. I understand the emotional detachment that killing people can cause, and things went way beyond just killing people for Fitz, but come on. This was another great example of where this book felt manic.

I thought we had seen the last of Fitz, and while I have always hungered for more, I didn’t want to get my fill like this. This book is like White Castle for many people: They have fond memories of visiting it in the wee hours of the morning in their youth, enjoying the small sliders and their greasy goodness, but twenty years later, when they pull up to one in their minivan with their kids in the back and the Frozen sing-along CD blasting on the stereo and open up that paper that is quickly growing translucent from that once glorious grease, things just are not as great as they hoped or remembered. I could see Hobbs’s skill in the words in this story, but not in the story itself. I can see some of the human nature and emotional points that she tried make, but for all of those points, the spear still ended up really dull. I hope that Hobbs rebuilds something amazing with Fitz and Bee and covers this well-made, solid, and utterly boring and manic foundation. I hope that this isn’t the book that kills Fool or his Assassin for me.

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