January 23, 2006

Fool's Errand, by Robin Hobb

FitzChivalry Farseer has spent the fifteen years since Assassin's Quest rusticating in a small cottage far from the Queen's court under the name of "Tom Badgerlock". Almost everyone who knew him thinks him dead, and after the tumultuous and agonizing events of the Farseer trilogy one imagines that he and his wolf companion needed the rest.

Much has changed in the fifteen years since the end of the Red Ship war. Chade Fallstar, FitzChivalry's old teacher, is now Queen Kettricken's chief advisor. Prince Dutiful, the heir to the throne, is in his teens and will soon be betrothed to a lady of the Outislands. And FitzChivalry's unique talents will soon be required by his Queen.

There are two major kinds of magic in Hobb's world: the Wit and the Skill. The Skill allows the one Skilled to communicate telepathically with others who are Skilled, to see things that are far off, and to mentally influence the lesser or un-Skilled. In recent years, training in the Skill has been the purview of the royal family; it is consequently highly regarded. The Wit, by comparison, is the subject of many a gruesome legend. Those afflicted with the Wit, it is said, may talk to beasts and command them to do their bidding--and in time they become beasts in human form. It is the Wit that creates the bond between Fitz and his companion wolf. There are many with the Wit in the Six Duchies, but few speak of it openly; the Witted have often been persecuted, most recently during the reign of the usurper King Regal. Feelings against the Witted run high.

So it has often been--but there are two new developments. First, a secret society known only as the Piebalds is agitating, so they claim, for full acceptance of the Witted in society; and one of their tactics is to publically denounce those Witted who will not help them. And second, Prince Dutiful has been gifted with both the Wit and the Skill. Things are going to become very interesting....

Hobbs is frequently a little too mean to her characters, in my view, but she has restrained herself somewhat in this case; as a result, I enjoyed reading the book more than some of its predecessors. On the other hand, the major conflicts are less interesting. You win some, you lose some. Anyway, I enjoyed it enough to go looking for the sequel, Golden Fool, which I'm reading now.

Posted by Will Duquette at January 23, 2006 05:22 PM