Lady Scribe’s Notes: There are few books that made me sob as bitterly as this novel. It is both a beginning and an end, justice and injustice, bitter and sweet, and it blended together to remind me of everything that has made FitzChivalry one of my favorite characters in all fantasy novels. I could, perhaps, walk away with that as my review, but I’ll write more thoroughly after I give you the pertinent information regarding the title.
Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb released on August 12, 2014 by Random Penguins… err Penguin House, House of… oh forget it: Random House LLC. I paid $15.00 for the kindle edition, and my local bookstore charges $34.00 for it.
FitzChivalry—royal bastard and former king’s assassin—has left his life of intrigue behind. As far as the rest of the world knows, FitzChivalry Farseer is dead and buried. Masquerading as Tom Badgerlock, Fitz is now married to his childhood sweetheart, Molly, and leading the quiet life of a country squire.
Though Fitz is haunted by the disappearance of the Fool, who did so much to shape Fitz into the man he has become, such private hurts are put aside in the business of daily life, at least until the appearance of menacing, pale-skinned strangers casts a sinister shadow over Fitz’s past . . . and his future.
Now, to protect his new life, the former assassin must once again take up his old one. . . .
The Lady Scribe’s Review:
This shamelessly rambles. This is as much of a review as it is a dissection of myself as a reader. I hope you choose to come with me as I explore this tangled weave.
There is something about the blurb of this book I both hate and love. At the end, though, it does the job… of not telling you anything about the book but making me want to read it again. On the surface, it is correct… but it lacks what really hurt me about this book.
There are a few accurate things here, though: Molly and Fitz are together, married, and… there are, indeed, pale-skinned strangers who show up within the novel. There’s loads of all of the action adventurey assassin goodness that made me fall in love, over and over against, with FitzChivalry Farseer.
But ultimately, this doesn’t sufficiently discuss what this book is truly about or why it hurt me so much to read it. I’m going to stray outside the norms of normal book reviews. For that, I’m not sorry… but I do feel it needs to be said.
Robin Hobb has done something more Fantasy authors should do more often: she delves, very deeply, into the nature of the human mind, of madness, and of the people and loved ones impacted by it.
She faces depression and other forms of mental illness straight on. Through Fitz, I was forced to acknowledge, come to terms with, and accept all of the terrors of mental illness and the consequence of them.
She doesn’t just look depression down the gun barrel, but she also approaches Alzheimer’s with all of the brutality of a berserker with an ax. It’s not pretty, nor does she pull the punches. She approaches the subject of age, with both the dignity it deserves and the brutality that is the reality of it. She approaches other mental illnesses as well, with grace, with dignity, and with brutality.
And through it all, I read, and I suffered–I do not have shame in this. What Fitz is forced to face is what I, myself, have been forced to face. And because of those shared circumstances, I understood.
Because of it, I wept for him, for myself, and for those who also understand.
And it is here that my pen wanders, very much like FitzChivalry’s did at the very start of The Assassin’s Apprentice. I keep wanting to go back, burn it to ash, and begin again.
Most of us have been impacted by depression or mental illness, and it is Hobb’s shocking clarity, acknowledgment of it, and her masterful storytelling skills that forced me to face everything I didn’t want to. And it was Hobb’s masterful storytelling skills that forced me to sit through the entire novel, albeit through several shameless sob sessions.
I am typically a stoic reader–don’t be mistaken, books often evoke emotions in me–but I rarely, rarely cry over a book. I am more likely to laugh with characters and feel sympathy for them, but I’m not, generally, a weeper.
This is the fourth book I have hopelessly wept through. I have read thousands of books in my life. (And I’m so happy I have.) I’ll discuss both of the previous books, as the circumstances of my blubbering do, indeed, matter.
The first book I can recall weeping through was Anne McCaffrey’s All the Weyrs of Pern. Robinton, to this day, still holds a tender place in my heart. Robinton, as does a certain artificial intelligence. To lose them both at once was a blow–but to lose them in parallel with the quote McCaffrey used so well, was what did me in.
While the quote, in nature, is religious, it is not with a religious context I present it:
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.
Jaxom was forced, along with everyone else, to endure life after death. And with him, and all of the characters in All the Weyrs of Pern, I wept.
McCaffrey forged connections with me, through these characters, and I walked away feeling like I had lost a friend.
The second book I wish to mention is the final novel of David Eddings’s the Mallorean. It’s been a great long time since I have read the novels, so character names are hazy–but who this character was is not.
Some of you may remember the hunchbacked disciple, who favored the hawk. Someone who appeared so hideous he hid himself behind walls few tried to break through. At the end, he had a happy ending–but forever leaving behind the tethers of the world that saw nothing more than a hunchback.
He was a side character, one who came and went as he pleased, one who did exactly what he needed, when needed, but I loved him all of the same. It was with bitter sweetness that the finality of his departure, in life though and not in death, that made me cry. But why? He had his happy ending, flying free of all of the shackles that had tethered him to his world.
Last, but not least, is Night by… I can’t remember the author’s name. I believe his initials are E.W. It is a title about the holocaust. The blunt brutality of the book and its direct approach of the terrors of the holocaust horrified me to to tears. I wept because of the cruality of the human race, and the things we have done to each other.
And so it is in Fool’s Assassin, thus my pen wanders and leads me right back to FitzChivalry.
Robin Hobb took the things that made me weep about All the Weyrs of Pern and saddled it to the bitter sweetness of what made me mourn yet rejoice in The Mallorean. She took grief, life, death, and everything that falls in between, and made it gloriously painful. She brought into sharp focus the connections I had with Fitz, led me on a merry chase, giving me hope that Fitz would get the peace he so deserved, and yanked the rug out so thoroughly beneath my feet I wailed my discontent.
There are few characters I have met who have impacted me as much as a reader.
She does what George R R Martin never managed to accomplish with me. She made me care so deeply for characters that their loss marked me.
I do not want to spoil anything for readers, but I will say this:
This is one novel that I may never want to read again, simply because it is too hard to take. But the truth is? I’ll come back, and I’ll endure it again, because FitzChivalry is a character I simply can’t let go of.
(Should he perish by the series’s end, I will be broken.)
At the end, I walked away with bloodshot eyes, a blubbering mess, and wailing at the injustice of having to wait for the next novel. There was only one little glimmer of hope that Robin Hobb left me with. And because of it, I’ll be back.
And I suspect by the time this series ends, it will have left a deep mark on me… and not because of the story or plot, but because there are few fantasy characters I understand and love as much as I do FitzChivalry Farseer.
Many people probably won’t be impacted by this title as I have been, but that is okay.
But for those of you who have walked in the shoes of someone who has witnessed the degradation caused by age and mental illness, I weep with you.
And for my last thought of the night: there is no shame in crying for and over fictional characters. Sure, they’re words on a page. They’re not real, not in the sense of a living person in our day and age… but for a moment, as we read, they could be. And in a way, they are. There is nothing shameful about feeling emotion, even if that emotion is triggered by a fictional book. When we read, we forge connections with characters as though they are people. In a way, they are–they’re friends we can never meet, and for a time, as we wander through the pages of a book, they’re as real as we choose to make them.
If you weep, it is because you’re feeling the truth behind those characters. I’m an author, and there is no greater honor than when someone tells me they laughed and cried with one of my characters.
Because, for a moment, my characters were real to them. As a reader, there is nothing more cherished than when a fictional character, such as FitzChivalry, becomes real to me.
There is no shame in tears or laughter when reading a book. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.