“Someone had picked up the memory-stone carving the Fool had made for me decades before and put it back on the mantel with the facet that showed my face looking out into the room. When I picked it up to correct it, my lip lifted in a snarl. On the Fool’s image, a clumsy thumb had left blood smeared down his cheek. The surge of fury I felt was not rational.”
Fool’s Assassin is the first book in a new trilogy in Robin Hobb’s Realms of the Elderlings series, which includes the Farseer Trilogy, the Liveship Traders, the Tawny Man Trilogy, and the Rain Wild Chronicles. The bastard assassin FitzChivalry Farseer is dead to the world, and now lives as Tom Badgerlock. He has married his childhood sweetheart, Molly, and retired to the country estate of Withywoods to live out the rest of his life in peace, far from the intrigues of the Farseer court. But fate has other plans for Fitz, and the disruption of his peaceful retirement begins with the arrival and disappearance of a messenger, who is murdered before Fitz can hear what she has to say. It will be years before Fitz learns who sent the messenger and why, but her death begins the chain of events that will turn Fitz’s world upside down once more.
Fool’s Assassin is a long, slow build-up for Hobb’s new trilogy, laying out all the necessary pieces over a timescale of years, at a length of nearly seven hundred pages. We are immersed into Fitz’s new life with Molly at Withywoods, where he does his best to keep the intrigues of the Farseer court at bay, though Chade and Nettle are continually trying to pull him back in. Hobb also introduces an important new character who seems poised to be a driving force behind the new series, as well as a sometime narrator. We also find some new faces in the supporting cast, including another Farseer bastard of unknown parentage. Despite the slow start, Fool’s Assassin certainly ends with a bang that will ensure a more action-packed sequel. It is good to be back in the Six Duchies, and I look forward to a more adventurous second installment.
Speaking at University Bookstore Seattle on August 4, 2014, Hobb seemed to be expecting a bit of backlash on this book. She spoke about writing the story as she originally imagined in, rather than giving in to external pressures and writing the book fans might be expecting. Having read the book, I think that aside from the slow plot for this initial installment, backlash is most likely to come from the way this new story arc is going to change what we thought we knew about Fitz and the Fool’s history. However, I think it may also starting us on the path to explaining the extinction of the Elderlings, and the near-extinction of dragons, a mystery that has not been solved since it was first raised in Assassin’s Apprentice nearly twenty years ago.