January 04, 2006

Assassin's Apprentice,
Royal Assassin,
Assassin's Quest, by Robin Hobb

I've been trying to work my way through my shelves of unread books, and one book on the shelf is Fool's Errand, a book my brother loaned me some while back. It's the first in a trilogy; but that trilogy is, taken all-in-all, a sequel to a previous trilogy which my brother loaned me even longer ago. In order to have the background for Fool's Errand in mind, then, it seemed wise to re-read the three books of the previous trilogy first; and then I could give all four volumes back to my brother at our family Christmas gathering. That was the plan, but in fact I was only part way through the third book in the first trilogy, Assassin's Quest, when Christmas rolled around. Ah, well; I've since finished it, and here's what I think this time.

The three books listed above tell the first part of the story of FitzChivalry Farseer, the bastard son of a prince of the kingdom of the Six Duchies. Acknowledged by his father, who promptly abdicates in embarassment at having sired a bastard, he is given a place by his grandfather, King Shrewd. Shrewd makes a deal with the young boy: he will provide FitzChivalry with food, clothing, training, and a life of relative comfort; in return, FitzChivalry will pledge his complete loyalty and discretion. And then begins his training as King Shrewd's back-up assassin.

It's a time of troubles for the Six Duchies; red ships from the Out Islands have begun raiding the coastal regions in earnest. Out Island raiders are not uncommon--the ruling Farseer line was founded by a successful raider--but now there's a difference. The raiders are not carrying off goods or slaves. Instead they are destroying entire villages. Those they do not kill are carried away and held for a very unusual kind of ransom. If the ransom is paid, the captives are killed. Otherwise, the captives are returned to their devastated homes--returned, alive and physically unharmed, but with all humanity stripped from them. The Forged, as they come to be known, are rather like locusts, eating anything that comes to hand with no thought for the morrow, and killing anyone who has anything they might want. The Forged must be put down, and a lot of that work goes to the unfortunate Fitz.

That's just the beginning. There's a lot to like in these books: magic (two distinct kinds), intrigue, interesting good guys, horrendously evil bad guys, a touch of mystery, and even a somewhat happy ending. There's a certain amount to dislike, as well. Fitz goes through so much, and so much that's awful, that reading about it can be an ordeal. Also, I think the books are rather longer than was really necessary, and would benefit from some judicious trimming.

I liked them better this time than the first time, though. I read them more slowly, which helped, and though I'd forgotten most of the details I had a vague notion of where the plot was going, and that helped too.

I can't recommend these unequivocally; but on the other hand, I stopped at a bookstore yesterday and picked up some more of Hobb's books. So I guess I can recommend them equivocally.

Posted by Will Duquette at January 4, 2006 08:09 PM