I will start by saying that if you are looking for a book to lift your spirits and give you hope for happy times and lightness then you probably don’t want to read this book. However, if you don’t mind seeing a master storyteller show you how a character’s life can go horribly, horribly wrong then this is the book for you.
Robin Hobb tells the story of young Fitz with all the emotion that the character deserves. He is young and his passions are high and he vows, in his naïveté to avenge himself on King Regal. Fitz sees a man who has murdered and destroyed lives out of a simple child-like fear or naked ambition. Regal killed his own father to claim the throne but more personally he tortured and killed Fitz, who only survived because of the Wit magic that his mother’s lineage gave him.
The problem is that Wit magic is outlawed and an abomination and Regal hunts down all who possess it. Fitz’s death was also rather public so any who recognize him know him for the abomination that he is.
Unable to see his friends, his family or his loved ones again Fitz nourishes his friendship with Nighteyes, his wolf companion.
Fitz is an interesting character. He’s trained as an assassin but he isn’t very good at it. He fails at it many times, especially at the critical moment when he tries to avenge his own death. He is the son of a charismatic leader and soldier yet when he fights he turns into a berserker, wild and thoughtless. He is riddled with flaws both emotional and physical. His body has been poisoned and beaten enough times that he is frequently paralyzed by fear of being beaten again.
Verity is more heroic, Kettricken is more capable, Chade and Burrich are both more skilled. Even Nighteyes possesses a contentment with his lot that escapes the young bastard son of a deceased prince.
But Hobb chose Fitzchivalry as the hero of her books because he is the catalyst. His is the touch that sparks the flames in others. When Fitz is around then things start to happen. It was because of Fitz that Verity journeyed across the mountains to the Rainwilds, searching aid from the Elderlings. It is also because of Fitz that Kettricken fled Buckkeep to save her unborn child, and the Fool fled with her. Now it is Fitz, looking for Verity, that triggers a search from Queen Kettricken and the Fool that will take them across the mountains to discover not only what Verity sought but the bones of an ancient civilization buried deep in the heart of the mountains.
I loved this book like I loved the two before it in the trilogy. Amidst all the brutal punishment that Hobb deals out to Fitz across the course of this series there is a bit of bittersweetness to this ending. His choices could not have ended any other way.
This book also pushes a lot of my other buttons. I have always been a bit of a pushover for exploring abandoned or lost civilizations. Finding ghost towns is still exciting. Visiting archeological sites fascinates me. To have large portions of this book filled with Fitz and his party exploring abandoned roads and buildings, discovering the mysteries of a long lost people that no longer exist, was just the right thing to push the story over the top.
It is that hint of a deeper, richer history and a people that have vanished that intrigues me so deeply. It is that richness that drew me into Tolkien’s work when I first read it. It is that same depth that I look for and love in most fantasy books. It is the feeling that people lived here long ago and all we have is relics of their past that brings to me that sense of wonder that fantasy literature is so well known for.
I would have read it anyway. I would probably have loved it no matter what. Robin Hobb has convinced me at this point that she knows characters and what to do with them well enough that I trust her.
Assassin’s Quest is brutal. Fitz gets even more battered and beaten, both mentally and physically. But it is also beautiful. It is a story about how much Fitz is willing to sacrifice for his King, his people, for what he sees as right. It is also a story about devotion, about prophecy and about loss and what that means.
Fitz is surrounded by a cast of characters who bring their own powerful resonances to the story. Kettle, the exiled old woman who refuses to leave his side on his search for his King. Ketricken, the Queen of both the Mountain Kingdom and of the Six Duchies, in hiding from Regal until Verity returns. Starling, the minstrel that sees Fitz as a catalyst that will inspire in her an epic that will ensure her future. And last, but not least is the Fool, a pale, fey prophet who is Fitz’s best friend and probably the most fascinating and mysterious character in the series.
This is a satisfying, if bitter, ending to the Farseer trilogy. I couldn’t ask for anything else.