It’s just a few months to the release of the final installment in Fitz and the Fool trilogy. And so it’s high time to review the middle book, Fool’s Quest. I must admit I’ve been putting off the moment of reading this book for a while now – and it was a planned and conscious decision. I didn’t want to wait too long for the grand finale, because I expected Fool’s Quest to be the perfect second installment, the Empire Strikes Back of Realm of Elderlings: harrowing, dark, full of sadness and anger and desperation… In short – the perfect foundation for the grand, all-encompassing conclusion to the long and extremely rich series of Realm of Elderlings – not only the three trilogies of Fitz and Fool, but also the Liveship trilogy and the Rainwild Chronicles.
And I was not disappointed.
All right. But how to write a review without spoiling anything from the previous books? Hobb doesn’t make it overly easy, because Fool’s Quest may start slow but then the pace significantly accelerates and by the end of the book it’s downright punishing – if not for the readers, then at least for the protagonists. Still, it’s a character-driven novel, and that makes it a tad easier.
First, a few words about the language and imagination. It’s perfect, evocative, emotional, flowing almost impossibly smoothly in action scenes and intimate, psychological moments alike. Hobb is a master of creating worlds – and her painstaking, years-long worldbuilding, from Six Duchies to Kelsingra and beyond finally gets a bright, shining moment in Fool’s Quest, where all the stories from the past begin to converge. It’s a beautiful, rich and complex weave, showing us patterns we only had a glimpse of before. It’s not a payoff, actually – it is much more. When you have 15 books to back your story, you can really do wonders; and Hobb knows perfectly well how to use the opportunities she created before to the maximum advantage of this story. Mind you, Fitz and the Fool trilogy bears all the signs of something final, a closure of sorts. And even if Hobb does come back one day to this world, we may well not see our beloved protagonists anymore. Still, be it a Fitz’s swan song or not, Fool’s Quest is Hobb’s tour de force in high/epic fantasy.
Secondly, the characters. I’m constantly impressed by how Hobb leads her characters throughout the years. They evolve slowly, yet mostly they stay the same. They might have much better understanding of the world, still, in times of danger or stress, they most happily revert to what they have learned in their youth. And this approach is perfectly evident not only in the development of Fitz, but also of Chade and Fool, Dutiful, Kettricken or even Elliania. If I have one tiny complaint, it’s for Bee. This time her maturity seems much more pronounced and – because of that – is definitely more jarring. Bee doesn’t resemble a nine-year-old very much, especially when contrasted with Shun who from all signs is supposed to be a grown-up, mature woman. I still love to read Bee’s voice – it’s just that I don’t envision a pre-teen as its owner anymore. But Fitz really is his old self – stubborn, reticent, prone to despair and wallowing in self-pity, and yet, and yet, unbreakable. Always pushing on. Always doing what he believes is right, no matter the cost. He learns some things on the way – even though it takes him soooo long to do it, and I was absurdly glad to see him grow. The Fool heals slowly and becomes more and more his old self, which is a very desirable development. But most of all I think I admired the evolution of Chade. It was perfect. Maybe it felt a bit rushed at moments, but the feeling was more of emotional than logical nature – here the plot is utterly plausible.
There are a handful of new characters who quickly gain a more prominent position: from Perseverance to Ash, from Shun to Lant, it was a pleasure to watch them grow. There are also characters whom we know from other series set in the Realm of Elderlings – both from Liveship trilogy and Rainwild Chronicles, but also from Fitz’s past. They play a variety of roles, but the place of each is thought through and they fit perfectly into the bigger picture.
Fool’s Quest also contains a beautiful rendition of the myth of the healer-king, with all the twists and quirks due the Realm of Elderlings and the existence of Skill. It’s so expertly woven into the story, naturally merged with the characters, opening so many new possibilities, that it may easily be one of the best scenes in the whole series.
In my review of Fool’s Assassin I wrote that some of the plot solutions were decidedly imperfect. I stand by this assertion; the “big secret” stayed a secret much too long to be even probable. But in the end I appreciated the emotional payoff of these scenes – Hobb managed to wring from them more than I expected. A few other solutions, from Fool’s Quest, also fall prey to the necessity of the overarching plot – in a way, they are too predictable, like an easy way out. It’s not a complaint, though; I‘ve no idea if there was another way to accomplish the final goal, and even if there was, if it really would have been better.
Fool’s Quest is a dark novel. Don’t make mistakes – all of the stories about Fitz and the Fool are dark, but this one is among the grimmest. Maybe not Royal Assassin grim, but close. There’s a pervading sense of despair, of revenge but not redemption, and these emotions permeate the pages of the book and reach out to the readers. Yet, among this havoc of darkness, there’s a scene that shines. A scene that most of the readers have been waiting for ages. I read it and felt vindicated and deeply rewarded – enough to throw a punch in the air ;). And I won’t say even a word more about it – you’ll know when you read it ;).
All in all, the second installment in Fitz and the Fool trilogy is even better than the first one. It’s at once a riveting, harrowing and rewarding read. The world once more established – changed and wider, and slightly different from before – provides a phenomenal background to the journey of the protagonists. It’s the best type of journey you can wish for: physical, emotional, spiritual, and the final reward is that you’re invited too :).