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In Fool’s Assassin, Robin Hobb thoughtfully revisits the characters who first elevated her to significance in the high fantasy marketplace. Over the past three decades, Hobb has given us many loosely interwoven tales about the sprawling kingdom of the Six Duchies and its neighboring lands. But it all started with a boy named FitzChivalry Farseer, and fans have long been clamoring for a continuation of his adventures, even after two trilogies dedicated to his exploits. Fool’s Assasin is the first book in what is presumed to be the last trilogy about FitzChivalry and his friends, aptly named “The Fitz & The Fool Trilogy”.

 

  For the unfamiliar, “Fitz” is maybe best introduced as a jack-of-all-fantasy-clichés. He is the illegitimate son of a would-be king. And yet he is a simple man who wishes to be left alone. Of course he can’t be left alone because he is always being compelled by honor, or family, or love, to save everybody everywhere from everything. He commands a powerful magic; a magic he is sometimes reluctant to use, and other times fearful of being consumed by. He also dabbles in the skin-changer/beast-master role, and the spirit animal he bonded to was—of course—a wolf. To round out the fantasy-hero requirements: the love of his life is a down-to-earth village girl; he has a mysterious old mentor who trains him in a secret laboratory in the castle; he doesn’t know his mother; he is humorless and paranoid well beyond the point where any real-life person could be liked or respected, and yet people like and respect him.

 

 

 

The most remarkable thing about all these clichés being rolled together is that, in spite of them all, Fitz never comes off as self-parody. The reader is able to ignore the absurdity of a fantasy character wearing so many tropes at once because Hobb never allows her characters to use those tropes as crutches. She wraps her characters in layers of emotion and personality that present them, first and foremost, as real people. The effect of this depth and realism is that when a character happens to fit one cliché or another, it seems only coincidental, not cheap or corny.

 

This latest adventure introduces us to an older version of Fitz, finally living the quiet life he’s longed for, himself and his wife serving as caretaker and Lady of the peaceful country estate once inhabited by his father. However, his magic has prevented him from aging at a normal rate, and it soon becomes clear that his wife, Molly, is creeping into old age while he retains the looks and body of a handsome forty-something. When an exceedingly strange child is borne to the couple under near-miraculous circumstances, tension and drama inevitably follow.

 

Fool’s Assassin is a good example of Hobb’s tendency to draw on literary fiction stylings moreso than fantasy/sci-fi conventions in crafting her stories. This means that epic fights are few and far between, but it also means that there are no generic “throwaway” characters or scenes. The overwhelming bulk of the dramatic action occurs either as dialogue, or within the characters, as they adapt to their situations. This formula has, in the past, earned Hobb complaints from critics who insist that “nothing happens” in her books. It’s almost hard to argue with that, except that so much is happening within the characters minds and personal lives, and Hobb is so meticulous about making every one of her characters feel real despite the fantasy setting, that it is easily forgiven by readers who enjoy a more subtle, more personal approach to fantasy.

 

As for the action, it isn’t altogether absent. Although swords and slaughter take a backseat to interpersonal subtleties and internal dramas, they’re still present, and they’re as well-written as ever. While the George R.R. Martin/Terry Goodkind crowd might be disappointed by the lack of complex, graphic battle sequences, enough blood has been spilled by the last page to sate the thirsts of most fantasy fans.

 

If you like your fantasy a bit on the subtle side, with slow-burning storylines and characters worth caring about, Fool’s Assassin is a winner. The Ontonagon Township Library has also just gotten copies of Assassin’s Apprentice, Royal Assassin, and Assassin’s Quest, so that Hobb newbies can check out some of Fitz’s original adventures before picking up this latest installment.