Saturday, 25 May 2013

Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb

‘We are here Fitz, you and I, to change the future and the world...’

Fitz dreams of Red Ship Raiders sacking a coastal village, leaving not a single man, woman or child alive. Tortured by this terrible vision he returns to the Six Duchies Court where all is far from well.

King Shrewd has been struck down by a mysterious illness and King-in-waiting, Verity, spends all his time attempting to conjure storms to confuse and destroy the Red Ship Raiders. And when he leaves on an insane mission to seek out the mystical Elderlings, Fitz is left alone and friendless but for the wolf Nighteyes and the King’s Fool with his cryptic prophesies.

So, once again I try and review a book that has been reviewed countless times in a plethora of different ways. I have to try and find a way to get you to pick up this book and read it. Because I really, really want you to read it.

Royal Assassin is the second book in The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb, originally published in 1996 by Voyager Books. If you’d like to read my review of the first one, Assassin’s Apprentice, you can read it here.

I’ll open with full disclosure. Royal Assassin is firmly ensconced in my top three favourite books. Don’t ask where. That’d be like asking a woman her age.

We return to Fitz, who you’ll recall was poisoned by his uncle, Regal. His recovery is long and, as you’d expect from Hobb, very painful. He is forced to reassess his life choices and where his future may lead. In the end it leads back to Buckkeep, to King Shrewd and Prince Verity, to Molly and to the Fool.

King Shrewd is terribly sick with an unexplained wasting disease and Prince Verity is cloistered in a tower, using the Skill to keep the Red Ships at bay. Fitz gradually becomes closer to Verity and has to use his assassin’s skills to serve him better. Fitz must battle to keep forged ones away from Buck and battle to protect the people he cares for from Regal.

This is an unrelenting and dark tale, noticeably more so than Assassin's Apprentice. We see some of the very few happy moments of Fitz’s life, but Hobb uses these to raise him high only to dash him down further and deeper than he’s ever been. By the end of this book you know that Fitz is never destined to be happy, never fated for anything but suffering. He is subjected to some of the most excruciating situations you’re likely to find in any form of literature, with the rare added bonus that this is made to feel so real. Most times when the main character of a tale is in danger you never really feel concerned for their safety, but even though this is told in the first person, I was terrified for him.

If this is your first time reading this then you are about to meet one of the best supporting characters in fantasy. I won’t talk too much about him as it would become spoilerific, but Nighteyes often steals the show. His view on the world is animalistic (well, he is a wolf, after all) but he unintentionally offers some wonderful philosophical views on Fitz’s situation which actually made me think (which scares me...).

Nighteyes is used in another way, too. Through him we explore the Wit, one of the most underrated magic systems in fantasy. It feels really organic, because neither Nighteyes nor Fitz
know what the hell they’re doing, so we learn along with them, stumbling and bludgeoning as they go.

So, look, I could talk about the prose (amazing) or the character development (stunning when you remember this is told in first person), but I covered most of that in the Assassin's Apprentice review. For what it's worth, the sequel does it even better.

Instead, let me tell you of the emotional impact. I’ve mentioned that I feared for Fitz’s safety, but I was proud, angry, sad, desperate, disgusted and pretty much any other emotion you can name. I ran the whole gamut of emotions time and time again. And this wasn’t just for Fitz. I felt for Molly. I felt for Burrich. I ached for the Fool. I felt for them all at one time or another.

So please, read this series. The pace can be a little slow and difficult in parts and Regal still feels slightly out of place in terms of his persona, but you are so richly rewarded for your perseverance. And let me know your feelings on the ending...


About the reviewer:
Alex can be found in the rolling hills of Oxfordshire, splitting his time unevenly between fighting crime and raising two little boys (which is surprisingly similar). When he does find a spare moment he crams it full of fantasy or basketball, and due to rapidly ageing knees it's mostly fantasy these days. He's trying to learn the writing craft through sheer bloody mindedness and dreams of the day he has to do nothing else. If you're so inclined you can watch him stalk writers on Twitter - @shep5377

1 comment:

Hannah @ Once Upon A Time said...

I have the newer covers for books 1 and 3 in this series and the older one for this one and it's always bothered me! Really need to replace it so they match.. Especially THIS trilogy.