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Book Review: Fool’s Quest

Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb (Book II of the Fitz and the Fool Trilogy)

Fool's Quest by Robin Hobb

The harrowing adventures of FitzChivalry Farseer and his enigmatic friend the Fool continue in Robin Hobb’s triumphant follow-up to Fool’s Assassin. But Fool’s Quest is more than just a sequel. With the artistry and imagination her fans have come to expect, Hobb builds masterfully on all that has gone before, revealing devastating secrets and shocking conspiracies that cast a dark shadow over the history of Fitz and his world—a shadow that now stretches to darken all future hope.

Long ago, Fitz and the Fool changed the world, bringing back the magic of dragons and securing both the Farseer succession and the stability of the kingdom. Or so they thought. But now the Fool is near death, maimed by mysterious pale-skinned figures whose plans for world domination hinge upon the powers the Fool may share with Fitz’s own daughter.

Distracted by the Fool’s perilous health, and swept up against his will in the intrigues of the royal court, Fitz lets down his guard . . . and in a horrible instant, his world is undone and his beloved daughter stolen away by those who would use her as they had once sought to use the Fool—as a weapon.

But FitzChivalry Farseer is not without weapons of his own. An ancient magic still lives in his veins. And though he may have let his skills as royal assassin diminish over the years, such things, once learned, are not so easily forgotten.

Now enemies and friends alike are about to learn that nothing is more dangerous than a man who has nothing left to lose.

One of the first galleys I read was Fool’s Assassin. It was also the first Robin Hobb book I read. In a sense, it changed my life. In my review, I went on at length about my reading habits.

When I was younger, I often thought that I had to read an author’s entire catalog in order to get a sense of why they were popular, what had made them great, and how they had evolved. I took a chance reading Robin Hobb’s latest series without foreknowledge and it paid off. I managed to put off exploring her back catalog before this book was in my hands and I’m stupidly glad.

Whatever Hobb has already been, by chapter eight it was clear that she’s now master of your heart. If that ever wasn’t true, I don’t need to know. I’m not worried, really, but I’m finishing this trilogy before stepping backward. When you tear up about characters you barely know when you’re not even through a quarter of the book, you know you’re in good hands.

The first book explored the hero’s struggle to enjoy life following the epic adventure, following saving the world. This one delves into the price of success, the cost of failure, atonement, and belonging. When his old life crashes into his collapsing new one, we see what bends and what breaks.

How do you balance old responsibilities with new ones? What are your obligations to the various roles you play? How do you accept your grown children as superiors? Even as equals? What are you willing to risk? For whom?

In this second volume, Fitz and the Fool confront their pasts and one another as their situation changes drastically around them from day to day. The trauma of those last steps along the hero’s journey gets a touching treatment as they awkwardly negotiate an experience that, while shared, is nonetheless necessarily personal. Solitary. Theirs is an enduring love, but one that is also endured.

Again I was awed by the dedication to the lived experience of the characters. Realizations that were obvious in the first novel elude the consciousness of the protagonists until well into this one. But it’s real. For good reason. Hobb’s like some Hitchcock of the intersection of emotion and intellect at war with one another. Instead of deriding their blindness, I empathized with it. Of course they don’t know. How could they?

Fool’s Quest is at once a culmination of the series so far and a clarion call. Everything comes together. Longtime readers will note characters and references from every book. Folks like me will gradually develop a sense of history and relationships. When things fall apart, everyone will experience the import.

Fool’s Assassin and Fool’s Quest are a great place to enter fantasy for readers of drama, romance, and, well, pretty much anything else. Robin Hobb isn’t afraid to simply let her characters be human. These stories are about people. People probably a lot like you. In a wonderful magical setting.

Recommended for fans of Roland Deschain, Unforgiven, and Captain America.


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Our Most Anticipated Science Fiction and Fantasy of 2015

Well, mine anyway. But since I read more of it, I figure it’s technically ours. Anyway, 2014 saw the release of some wonderful science fiction and fantasy. And while we won’t be seeing The Winds of Winter or The Doors of Stone this year, 2015 is full of exciting titles. So, in chronological order, here’s what The Dinglehopper is looking forward to talking about.


Half the World by Joe Abercrombie

Half the World by Joe Abercrombie (February 17th)



Half the World is the second book in Abercrombie’s YA Shattered Sea Trilogy. The third appears later in the list and I reviewed the first last year. Half a King was a marvel of plotting and structure with a single point of view character. Two near characters provide the perspectives for this sequel.

Sometimes a girl is touched by Mother War.

Thorn is such a girl. Desperate to avenge her dead father, she lives to fight. But she has been named a murderer by the very man who trained her to kill.


Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (May 19th)



I’m one of the few people who didn’t like Snow Crash but kept reading Stephenson anyway. I loved his last two novels, Anathem and REAMDE. The concept seems sort of similar to Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix only further into the future and perhaps more complex. I’m excited to find out.

What would happen if the world were ending?

A catastrophic event renders the earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space.


The Philospher Kings by Jo Walton

The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton (June 30th)



The first half of this duology came out in January and we’ll be reviewing it soon. Maybe the most succinct thing I can say about it is that it left me wanting more. As soon as possible. Thankfully, I only have to wait a few months.

Twenty years have elapsed since the events of The Just City. The City, founded by the time-traveling goddess Pallas Athene, organized on the principles espoused in Plato’s Republic and populated by people from all eras of human history, has now split into five cities, and low-level armed conflict between them is not unheard-of.


The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu

The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu, translated by Joel Martinsen (July 7th)



This is another sequel, the second part of a trilogy by Chinese superstar Cixin Liu. What can I say? There were some exciting first books last year. We reviewed the weird, wonderful, stunningly imaginative The Three-Body Problem back in October.

With the scope of Dune and the rousing action of Independence Day, this near-future trilogy is the first chance for English-speaking readers to experience this multiple-award-winning phenomenon from China’s most beloved science fiction author.


Half a War by Joe Abercrombie

Half a War by Joe Abercrombie (July 28th)



This is the final book in The Shattered Sea Trilogy. After the just the first chapter of Half the World, I knew I was on board for the rest of the ride. This one will add another point of view character.

Yarvi is the unlikely heir to the throne—a clever, thoughtful boy with a crippled hand who feels out of place in a violent, Viking-like society. Thorn is a young girl, determined to follow in the footsteps of her dead father and become a famous warrior, whatever it takes. Now Yarvi has avenged the murder of his father, and sets out on an epic journey with Thorn that will embroil his kingdom in all-out war.


Three Moments of an Explosion by China Mieville

Three Moments of an Explosion by China Mieville (August 4th)



China Mieville is my jam.

In these stories, glistening icebergs float above urban horizons; a burning stag runs wild through the city; the ruins of industry emerge unsteadily from the sea; and the abandoned generations in a decayed space-elevator look not up at the stars but down at the Earth. Ranging from portraits of childhood to chilling ghost stories, from dystopian visions to poignant evocations of uncanny love, with beautiful prose and melancholy wit, this breath-taking collection poses searching questions of what it is to be human in an unquiet world.


Fool's Quest by Robin Hobb

Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb (August 11th)



I spent my tween years reading fantasy, but sort of drifted away from it on my way through junior high, meaning I missed a lot. For example, the dozen or so novels Robin Hobb set in The Realm of the Elderlings. The first book of her new Fitz and the Fool Trilogy, Fool’s Assassin, was one of my favorite books of last year. And no, I didn’t bother to catch up.

After a devastating confrontation, FitzChivalry Farseer is out for blood—and who better to wreak havoc than a highly trained former royal assassin?


The Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley (October 6th)



I haven’t been this excited about a book since The Wise Man’s Fear. And there was so much more waiting involved with that one. I raved about The Mirror Empire in September. The Empire Ascendant continues Hurley’s Worldbreaker Saga, about the interdimensional invasion of one world by its parallel(s) and the people caught up in it. But that barely scratches the surface of what’s going on in this incredible series that takes nothing for granted.

As the foreign Empire spreads across the world like a disease, one of their former allies takes up her own Empress’s sword again to unseat them, and two enslaved scholars begin a treacherous journey home with what they hope is the key to the Empire’s undoing.
But when the enemy you must overcome shares your own face, who can be trusted?

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett (November 11th)



This one’s as surprising as it is exciting. I enjoyed City of Stairs, a post-colonial epic spy fantasy, but I was under the impression that the author didn’t do sequels. That he switched genres with every novel. So revisiting this imaginative world wasn’t on my radar at all. But I’m glad it’s coming.

The city of Voortyashtan was once the domain of the goddess of death, war, and destruction, but now it’s little more than a ruin. General Turyin Mulaghesh is called out of retirement and sent to this hellish place to try to find a Saypuri secret agent who’s gone missing in the middle of a mission, but the city of war offers countless threats: not only have the ghosts of her own past battles followed her here, but she soon finds herself wondering what happened to all the souls that were trapped in the afterlife when the Divinities vanished. Do the dead sleep soundly in the land of death? Or do they have plans of their own?




Book Review: Fool’s Assassin

TL;DR: You don’t need to catch up to fall for Robin Hobb’s Fool’s Assassin.

Tom Badgerlock has been living peaceably in the manor house at Withywoods with his beloved wife Molly these many years, the estate a reward to his family for loyal service to the crown.

But behind the facade of respectable middle-age lies a turbulent and violent past. For Tom Badgerlock is actually FitzChivalry Farseer, bastard scion of the Farseer line, convicted user of Beast-magic, and assassin. A man who has risked much for his king and lost more…

On a shelf in his den sits a triptych carved in memory stone of a man, a wolf and a fool. Once, these three were inseparable friends: Fitz, Nighteyes and the Fool. But one is long dead, and one long-missing.

Then one Winterfest night a messenger arrives to seek out Fitz, but mysteriously disappears, leaving nothing but a blood-trail. What was the message? Who was the sender? And what has happened to the messenger?

Suddenly Fitz’s violent old life erupts into the peace of his new world, and nothing and no one is safe.

Normally I’m kind of like the most obsessive reader you know turned up to eleven.  I read in publication order.  I read all of the author’s work.  If there’s short story cannon, I read it.  If chapters get anthologized before the novel, they’re close by when I open the book.

I care how prose evolves, how authors develop, and what changes are made as the story comes into being.

It’s not a rule, but it’s typical.  I don’t usually allow myself to just dip in any old where.  There are drawbacks, of course.  While I’m incredibly familiar with several authors, I also have some notable blind spots.  Robin Hobb was one of them.  One I’d been meaning to rectify for a couple years.  She presented interesting challenges regarding where to begin, so I figured I’d try going in blind for once.

Technically, the learning curve for this book could be fourteen novels long.  Like, you probably shouldn’t start here.  You’ll miss so much.  You won’t understand.  You’ll spoil some of the best work in the genre.

Don’t believe it.  The first paragraph is really the only one that matters, because Hobb takes it seriously.  And the life after service might be the rarest gem in all of fantasyland, so precious that we only get glimpses of it on the margins.

We see Badgerlock as a man, a husband, a father, and a retiree.  We get to know him and come to understand who he is.  There’s never the sense that what we’re looking at it is merely the comfortable life he’ll be pulled out of for one last job.  That’s how the ad copy reads.

But that’s not what I read.  I read a heartrending book about what it means to be human, to love, to be loved and try to accept that love.  To expect and exult and sulk and settle.  To try to do your best and find that’s not always good enough.

Fitz was clearly a hero.  He was clearly great.  He deserved respite.  But could he handle it?  Was he prepared for a quotidian life after the tumult?  Was the world?

There are questions that Fantasy doesn’t normally consider.  What is it like to watch your children grow and become adults after you finish the epic?  What are the consequences of the skills and power acquired on the quest for those around you?  Is it possible to leave the struggle behind and enjoy the boon?

Hobb is wise.  This is a mature work of fiction by a mature woman.  She’s seen life, and love, and loss, and shared it with her protagonist who, in turn, shares it with us.  Tom tries and thereby earns our trust.  He fails and thereby engenders our love.

Fool’s Assassin is well plotted and securely anchored to the eventual seventeen novel narrative The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy contributes to.  I’d say there aren’t many surprises, but that’s not entirely accurate.  The major beats are anticipated early and create a sense of tension and anticipation when they arrive.  What’s surprising is that they’re almost secondary to the lived experience of the characters.  It’s not the event that’s portentous or momentous, it’s the repercussions within.

I want to read the earlier novels not because there are dragons and wars and ancient magics, but because the people I read about remember tender moments from them.  I want to see what affected them so deeply.  What moved them to tears.

I want to read the next novel, alas, to find out what happens.  I can’t skip it.  It’s unthinkable.  She’s got me.

Recommended for readers who liked The Parish and the Hill, A Visit from the Goon Squad, and The Magician King.