Blurb contains spoilers for The Farseer Trilogy, books #1-2.
The review (starting with ‘Thoughts’) does not contain spoilers.

Assassin's Quest by Robin Hobb (Farseer Trilogy #3)

[rating:4.5]
Author: Robin Hobb
Series:
The Farseer Trilogy #3
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Age Group: Adult
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Pages: 757
Published: March 3rd 1997
Source: Personal Copy
Goodreads | Amazon (UK/US) | Book Depository

First sentence:

I awake every morning with ink on my hands.

Blurb

From an extraordinary new voice in fantasy comes the stunning conclusion to the Farseer trilogy, as FitzChivalry confronts his destiny as the catalyst who holds the fate of the kingdom of the Six Duchies…and the world itself.

King Shrewd is dead at the hands of his son Regal. As is Fitz–or so his enemies and friends believe. But with the help of his allies and his beast magic, he emerges from the grave, deeply scarred in body and soul. The kingdom also teeters toward ruin: Regal has plundered and abandoned the capital, while the rightful heir, Prince Verity, is lost to his mad quest–perhaps to death. Only Verity’s return–or the heir his princess carries–can save the Six Duchies.

But Fitz will not wait. Driven by loss and bitter memories, he undertakes a quest: to kill Regal. The journey casts him into deep waters, as he discovers wild currents of magic within him–currents that will either drown him or make him something more than he was….

Thoughts

I think I made a better boy than I do a man, I admitted ruefully to the wolf.
Why not wait until you’ve been at it a bit longer and then decide? he suggested.

Robin Hobb is clearly a believer in, ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’, at least when it comes to her characters. FitzChilvary rarely knows a moments peace. This is a constant throughout the series and it is interesting to see the changes in Fitz’ reactions as his story progresses. Even as late as the early acts of Assassin’s Quest, he responds with the heat and impulsiveness of a child. Rash. Very, very, rash.

There is little regard for consequence of action or word, and more than once he is offered warning from those closest to him that soon must come a point where he cannot so quickly apologise it all away. Truthfully, Fitz may come across as a foolish character during these earlier sections, one that makes it such you cannot help but to throw up your hands and exclaim, ‘When will you learn?’

Not a unique response to a character. Poor writers often have their characters be ‘stupid’ to serve the purposes of the story. The worst writers have otherwise brilliant characters pull these stupendous feats of stupidity only at convenient times and then have them return to solving the fantasy equivalents of multi-variable calculus on the very next page. Such writing has surely made my teeth a few millimeters shorter over the years from the grinding.

Hobb’s approach to Fitz is much more believable. As mentioned, he is rash and impulsive rather than truly being denser than an old forest log. There is an internal consistency, so more often than not when you are throwing your hands up in the air over his decisions, it is born out of an exasperation for the character. For a wayward child you hope will one day begin to make better choices, but you can’t help but to fret and worry that they may never get the chance. Fitz is a character that you will come to care and worry about due to the power of Robin Hobb’s writing. You will want him to do better with his relationships and you will ache at some of the isolating decisions he sometimes makes.

As you may have gathered then, this is a character driven story through and through. Much of the enjoyment comes from seeing Fitz — and indeed other characters too, albeit through Fitz’ eyes — grow and develop as we go. Relationships are made important and the people are brought front-and-centre. Hobb will make you care for her characters and then punish you for it with the ordeals they go through. There are some truly harrowing moments where the pages flip with your heart riding up in your mouth.

Suffice to say, it is not always the lightest of reads. It is an emotionally bumpy ride that will bring you right in and have you feel it all.

Personally? I love this. It is one of the most engaging books (and series) I’ve ever read and thus is why I’ve rated it so highly. I do however also offer up a warning for those who prefer their books to be lighter and happier in nature. This one isn’t.

I must confess that the early to middle sections of this book do drag a little. It takes the whole ‘Hero’s Journey’ thing to a ludicrously literal level. Fitz treks an extremely long way and we feel every step of it. I don’t mean to suggest nothing happens during these stretches, just that perhaps the book could have been a stronger, tighter finish to this series if one or more of the interim stages of the journey had been cut. By this point we know the character quite well and so it all seemed a trifle unnecessary. I suppose to be fair though, that I should mention that we begin to see perhaps the first hints of the subtle changes to FitzChilvary’s way of thinking over and about things. It is from this portion of the book I took the above quote from. Still. I did feel it dragged, but on my first read years ago and again now, so I must mention it.

As a final point, I would differentiate Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy from other attempts at ‘grit’. In fact, despite the emotional roller-coaster agreeing to read this series embarks you upon, I’m not even entirely sure that characterizing the story as ‘gritty’ is accurate. Or rather, it is achieved in a natural feeling way. This is a dark time for the Farseer line and their people. Even so, there aren’t any incidences I can point to of people needlessly slain just to show the author is willing to be merciless. There really don’t seem to be any scenes that leap out at you as being present simply because the author has thought, ‘Ooer, that’d be edgy’.

All told, I would highly recommend a read through of this series. Go along with Fitz on his journey from bastard child to hero — even if he is incapable of viewing himself in that light. He is the catalyst, the changer. The means through which ends may be achieved. The pebble in the path of progress, able to turn that ever moving wheel aside even slightly toward one path or another.

Assassin’s Quest marked a satisfying — albeit bittersweet — ending to the Farseer Trilogy. This particular adventure is wrapped up in full, so while there is more to be found within the follow-up Tawny Man Trilogy, you could stop here and be at peace.

…Perhaps. More FitzChilvary Farseer? Who wouldn’t want that? 😉