Assassin’s Fate is the final installment in the acclaimed Fitz and Fool Trilogy, and the grand finale for all three trilogies about the two protagonists: The Farseer Trilogy, The Tawny Man Trilogy and, indeed, The Fitz and Fool Trilogy. But more than that, it is quite possibly the crowning achievement and the ultimate conclusion to all Hobb’s writing pertaining to the world of Elderling Realms: Six, sorry, Seven Duchies, Rain Wilds, Kelsingra and beyond. Let’s stop here for a moment and count those: four trilogies – because there’s also Liveship Trilogy – and one tetralogy about Rainwilds, newly hatched dragons and their keepers. Altogether sixteen books, each easily over 500 pages long. A solid piece of one’s life spent on reading – let alone writing! It’s not surprising, then, that Fitz and Fool and Nighteyes had become important persons in my life 😉 and that I was heavily invested in reading the end of their story.
And, before I say anything else, I must say that it is a worthy conclusion. As always, it’s heart-breaking, riveting, harrowing and rewarding, enthralling, cathartic, horrible and beautiful in equal measures, tragic and poetic and sad – and yet, still immensely satisfying and incredibly powerful.
Hobb’s books about Fitz and Fool make me cry. Here, I’ve said it. Almost every single one of them made me cry, and Assassin’s Fate was the book over which I cried more than once. That’s enough, I think, to realize how emotionally loaded these novels are. Assassin’s Fate isn’t exactly a dark book – definitely less than Fool’s Quest, with much less despair and slightly more hope – but it is a tale of the vicious circle of vengeance and hate, of old crimes that still need reckoning, and of the difficulty of staying true to oneself. It’s also a book about hope against all odds, of the power of friendship and family, and about living in Leibniz’s best of possible worlds, which by no means is perfect, but still allows us a measure of happiness and completeness, even in the midst of all the cruelty and greed and hunger for power.
In Assassin’s Fate Hobb once again proves that she’s a master of literature. The Realm of Elderlings is complex and complete, thought through so extensively over the years that, as all the separate threads from three different settings with their separate protagonists and secrets converge, the reader is left only with a sense of awe. She writes alone, without a team of researchers or apprentices – and yet her mastery of this fantasy realm seems absolute. In this last trilogy the past of Elderlings is slowly unfurling, showing us, as is en vogue these days, the contemporary world as a barbaric – even if bright and well-meaning – remnant of a former glorious civilization, long gone in the mist of days past. It’s a very common motif nowadays, used by writers and filmmakers alike, from Abercrombie and Czajkowski’s series Echoes of the Fall [still to be reviewed] to Miller’ Mad Max series, and says more about our times than we’d care to share. Still, what Hobb does with Realm of Elderlings is definitely more in line with the historical accounts of the early-medieval Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire than the typical post-apocalyptic fantasy/sf stuff.
Assassin’s Fate remains immensely engaging from the first lines to the very last – being at the same time as subtle as it is gripping. Hobb creates unforgettable characters, living and breathing and real in a way that defies the limits of literature. She managed to reach deep into the realm of archetypes and gift the chosen few a life of their own, full of glory as well as mistakes, things left unsaid, griefs and grievances, joys and moments of sheer triumph. Fitz, especially alongside Nighteyes, is decidedly one of the most fully realized characters I have ever read. Hobb reinforces his image in the final installment, leaving the readers with a character which is not only complete and fully defined, but also relatable, real and truly lovable in all his imperfection. The road he takes through nine books of his history changes him, but even in the end we see in him traces of the boy he had been so many years and pages ago. Creating such a character and staying true to him, not letting down the trust of the readers while allowing the protagonist to grow and change is in my opinion a true feat, admirable for the precision of its execution, for its thoughtfulness and realism. Fitz and Nighteyes are truly beautiful creations, and the conclusion of their story is a cathartic one.
The only main character whose image suffers in the final trilogy is the Fool, whose allure came in the earlier books mostly from the mystery surrounding him. In Assassin’s Fate, as we learn more and more about Clerres, Servants and White Prophets, it is this mystery that Fool is slowly being stripped of, leaving his humanity (or inhumanity) bared for everyone to see. In the end, he seems more like a desperate, helpless, lost lover than the ambiguous, inscrutable puppeteer who always knew more than others. Well, one might argue that love can make desperate fools of everyone – but that means that we’ve seen many such fools before, and there is only one true Fool. I’d have preferred it had stayed this way, especially because the relationship of Fitz and Fool has been inevitably simplified in Assassin’s Fate by the occurrence of another factor – Bee. And while the presence of Nighteyes always enriched their relation, Bee’s existence somehow throws both adults into slightly stereotypical roles of concerned parents. I was sad to see Fool diminished in such a way – I’d say that of all the main characters his treatment was the most unforgiving and the least emphatic, especially where Bee’s voice was involved. Still, it is always a pleasure to read about the interactions of the extraordinary trio: Fitz, Nighteyes and the Fool, and I found real delight in the fact that their unbelievably complex relationship remained a mesmerizing, unfathomable and incredibly human Gordian knot till the very end.
As much as I loved the book – and I loved it dearly – there were some plot resolutions that seemed rather thin. To be precise, they were thin enough that despite the constant action and emotional impact of the book I found their credibility questionable and at times they simply broke my immersion, pushing me out of the Realm of Elderlings. They were probably necessary in order to achieve the final resolution in such and no other way – still, the amount of bad luck and bad timing plaguing our protagonists was staggering. As before, Bee seemed too mature for such a young protagonist – but due to the flowing, unrelenting action it was less pronounced than before. It’s a minor complaint, but from such a literary master as Robin Hobb I always expect the best ;).
If you’re worried that the final showdown with Servants will be too easy on our protagonists, stop now. Hobb was never one to shy from putting tragedy and misery on the shoulders of her characters, and this didn’t change. Torture, abuse, terrible accidents, betrayal and death are an incessant, constant feature of their story. And yet, throughout this all, Hobb manages to bring light of hope, camaraderie, friendship and love – and it’s not in any way forced, but naturally stemming from the characters and the world she had created.
All in all, the story of Fitz and Fool is a must read for all fans of high fantasy – and more, for all fans of great literature. I really cannot recommend it enough.
10/10 (for the whole trilogy and the whole Fitz and Fool series)