Fool’s Quest: Yeah, we both cried. Got a problem with that?

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsFool’s Quest by Robin Hobb fantasy book reviewsFool’s Quest by Robin Hobb

Last year I gave Robin Hobb’s Fool’s Assassin five stars and put it on my list of Best Books of 2014. Which puts me into a bit of a bind with her follow up, Fool’s Quest, since it’s even better. Clearly it will go on my Best of list for this year, but what about that rating? I may have to petition our fearless leader Kat for a sixth star waiver, or a five-plus category. Because in my mind, Fool’s Quest absolutely deserves that distinction. So, Kat, can I have 6 stars?

Sorry, Bill. We’re not equipped for that. But since I want to give Fool’s Quest 4.7745 stars, how about we average and round to 5 stars?

Sounds good. One of the reasons I found Fool’s Quest a “better” book is that as much as I loved Fool’s Assassin (and I did love it), I could see how many readers might grow frustrated at its focus on personal relationships and um, “leisurely” pacing filled with small-bore domestic detail and frequent moments of introspection (though at this point, I’m not sure why you’re reading Hobb if introspection isn’t your thing). Here though, those wishing for a little more plot in their plot shouldn’t have much to complain about. Yes, we still have long passages of Fitz musing on his life, detailed descriptions of clothes and food, and relationship, as always with Hobb, is the driver of nearly everything. But in Fool’s Quest we also get sword fights, chase scenes, escape attempts, wild gallops, dragons, torture, mutiny, vicious raids, and more. In other words, it’s a more traditional balance of quietude and action, of inner and outer focus. Kat, I know you also described the pace of the prior book as “slow.” Do you agree that Fool’s Quest ups the action quotient?

Yes, and I’d agree that this is the main feature that makes Fool’s Quest better than Fool’s Assassin. I’m grieved for what Fitz has lost and the tragedy that has struck his life — so much tragedy, again! — but these are the things that get Fitz moving around in his world and as much as we love Fitz when he’s feeding the chickens, we love him even more when he’s facing the world. Here he is, once again, finding himself in a new role in life and struggling to make sense of how he got there and what he should do next.

Fans of this series will also I think get excited about how the different worlds of Hobb’s fantasy universe (Buckeep, Bingtown, Rain Wild) start to come together here, as the novel seems to point to a merging/capping off of these ‘till now mostly separate strands. We also get some scenes that call back to or shed a different light on earlier events in the series, adding to the feeling that Hobb is moving us slowly toward some closure. Did you get that same sense Kat?Fitz and the Fool Trilogy (3 Book Series) by Robin Hobb

Definitely, and I thought this was another wonderful aspect of the plot. I have read and loved the Bingtown books (LIVESHIP TRADERS), but I have not (based on your reviews of the later books) read the RAIN WILDS CHRONICLES. I’m regretting that a bit right now and thinking about putting them on my TBR pile. Fitz’s fans don’t need to have read these related series, but it would make his world richer if they did.

Even though I think most people will react more positively to Fool’s Quest thanks to its uptick in more traditional action scenes, what brings me back again and again to Hobb’s work, and what makes this series one of my all-time favorites has always been, and remains, Hobb’s general strength in characterization. In particular, her greatest creation (and I’d argue one of fantasy’s greatest as well. Or heck, just literature’s) — FitzChivalry Farseer. Hobb shows Fitz in the totality of his personality — good and bad, nobility and pettiness, selflessness and selfishness. It’s all here, the whole panoply of humanity, warts and all.

Here, for example, is a scene between Fitz and the Fool, just after Fitz has refused to rush out and do something the Fool begs him to do:

He stared sightlessly at me as if I had said the cruelest thing in the world to him. Then his lower jaw trembled, and he dropped his face into his broken hands and began to sob.

 

I felt sharp annoyance and then deep guilt that I’d felt it. He was in agony. I knew it. How could I feel annoyed at him when I knew exactly what he was experiencing? Hadn’t I felt that way myself? Had I forgotten the times when my experiences in Regal’s dungeons washed over me like a wave, obliterating whatever was good and safe in my life and carrying me right back into that chaos and ruin?

 

No. I tried to forget that, and in the last decade of years, for the most part I had… “Please, don’t make me remember that.”

 

I realized I’d said the betraying words out loud.

Fitz and The Fool: Coloring Book Paperback – May 10, 2018 by Robin Hobb (Author), Manuel Preitano (Illustrator)
How painfully real is it that Fitz, when his friend breaks down into tears, doesn’t feel sorrow or pity, but annoyance? Annoyance! What a crappy friend! But that’s what makes Fitz and all the others feel so human. And then he feels guilt, and we as readers feel better about our protagonist. But then he goes back into his own world and has that selfish “don’t make me remember that” line — focused more on himself than on the Fool.

There are so many such moments throughout this novel, this series, that Fitz has become such an accretion of tiny details over the years that it’s hard to remember he isn’t real. You know you’ve fallen wholly for a character, have completely bought into their human existence, when you tear up for a character not in a moment of tragedy (that kind of emotion can be easy to manipulate), but in a moment of happiness. And that’s exactly what I did here. Teared up, choked up, held the book loosely open in my hands for a minute or two without seeing the words, just reveling in this well-earned moment of joy for this character, this person I’ve spent so much time with over the years. And then went back and reread it once I finished the book. And had the same reaction. In fact, I choked up several times throughout the novel, which makes me worry just a tad about what might happen in the final book of this series. Kat, I know Fitz is also one of your favorite characters. Did you react as strongly to this novel, and perhaps to this particular scene (I’m going to assume you can guess which one it was)?

Wait. Fitz isn’t real??? What?? Bill, how could you do this to me???

Seriously, yes, FitzChivalry Farseer is my favorite character in fantasy literature and I’ve cried many tears over him in moments of both sorrow and triumph. And the scene you mention: I blubbered like a baby.

At the same time, though, I had to suspend disbelief a bit because I felt like that event should have happened years before and didn’t only because Hobb wanted us to experience it here. (Readers, this current trilogy is set a couple of decades later than the previous trilogy.) I thought that there were a few more of these little events and/or explanations that felt tacked on for drama or the plot’s benefit or just to give Hobb a chance to re-boot this series and her characters. While I think this detracted a bit from the sense of reality I expect from Hobb (and is why I’m giving Fool’s Quest only 4.7745 stars), I’m thrilled that Fitz has been re-booted because I love him. Fool’s Quest is still the best book I’ve read (and expect to read) this year and I absolutely enjoyed every moment of its 33 hours in audio format.

But back to Fitz and his friends. Let’s talk about the other characters.

Of course, because characters don’t become “great” on their own. Sure, Hobb creates three-dimensional characters who are compelling in their own right: Fitz, the Fool, Bee, Chade, Riddle. Hell, Hobb’s so good she creates compelling alias characters — some of Fitz’s disguises are more rounded characters than other authors’ protagonists. Her animal characters are more “human” than some authors’ protagonists (Nighteyes, of course. But I defy you not to warm to “Crow” and “Horse” and even “Cat” in this book). The true genius of Hobb, however, lies not in the individual depiction of character, not in the parts, but in the whole — in the entirety of the complex web of human (and animal) interaction. And depicting this web, and having its individual strands resonate in the reader’s heart and mind, is something Hobb does perhaps better than anyone. It isn’t Fitz and the Fool and Chade and Nettle that get to me in this book; it’s Fitz with the Fool, Fitz with Chade, Fitz with Nettle. Some of these interactions are touching, some are warm, some (not a lot) are funny, and some are just heartbreaking, heartbreaking in the present moment, but also heartbreaking in the anticipated future.

What do you think Kat — did you also find these interactions this powerful?

Yes, you’re right. And don’t forget Fitz with Queen Kettricken and Fitz with King Verity. These are the kinds of deep, trusting, and beautiful relationships we all wish we had more of. It’s interesting to notice that because Fitz has these kinds of relationships, he often acts passively, letting those he’s close to set his path for him. It’s nice to see him break out of that a little toward the end of Fool’s Quest. It will also be interesting to watch his developing relationships with Perseverance and Vigilant.

I’m glad you mentioned the animals. I was going to if you didn’t. Nobody writes animals better than Robin Hobb. I love all of her animal characters, especially her cats. The Crow was a fantastic character who added a nice spot of comedy to the story. I love him, but I don’t necessarily trust him…

The topics and/or themes of Fool’s Quest will be familiar to Hobb’s fans: the impact of loss and the attempt to overcome it, the ways in which events of the past continue to ripple through time, the impact of violence on both the victims and the perpetrator, what makes for good parenting, free will. One aspect I do want to mention with regard to the violence is the depiction of rape in the novel. I’ve pointed in recent reviews to major issues I’ve had with how rape is employed in many novels lately. Its use here is, no surprise coming from Hobb, serious, moving, and realistic, with no hint of gratuitousness or of its use as a “motivating technique.” Its lingering impact, as depicted in several passages, is crushing. Lots of authors could do worse than study Hobb’s portrayal before they turn to it as a plot element in their own works.

And, to be clear, not just the devastating impact on the person who was raped, but also their family and friends.

Beyond plot and character, the basic novel elements are just as one expects by now from a craftsman such as Hobb. The prose is vivid, sharply precise, evocative. Pacing and scene transition are expertly handled. Hobbs has always been a consummate writer, and that holds true here.

Yes, every sentence and every word is perfectly placed and packed with meaning.

I loved Fool’s Quest (so much so that I read its 750 pages in a single sitting), hated that it ended (and ended in a bit of a cliffhanger), and find myself in the position of eagerly awaiting the next book but also fearing it, nervous that I might have to say goodbye to Fitz and his world and knowing already that I’m “gonna need some lone time” if that turns out to be the case. I might just stack up the earlier books next to me so I can start over from the beginning right away. Kat, how was the audio version?

Elliot Hill has been narrating the FITZ AND THE FOOL trilogy, which is a change from the previous books. The FARSEER trilogy was narrated by Paul Boehmer and TAWNY MAN was narrated by James Langton. I don’t like Hill’s voices as well as I liked Boehmer’s and Langton’s. I think Hill’s characterizations of the Fool, Vigilant, and Queen Kettricken are wrong, and he gives some of the minor characters odd speech cadences to distinguish them from the rest of the cast. But, fortunately, I do like how he performs Fitz and Bee and most of the other characters, and he does a wonderful job with the animals. So, while the audio performance isn’t as good as the previous books’ performances, I can still recommend it and I’ll choose this format for the next book.

Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb fantasy book reviewsPublished on August 11, 2015. The harrowing adventures of FitzChivalry Farseer and his enigmatic friend the Fool continue in Robin Hobb’s triumphant follow-up to Fool’s Assassin. But Fool’s Quest is more than just a sequel. With the artistry and imagination her fans have come to expect, Hobb builds masterfully on all that has gone before, revealing devastating secrets and shocking conspiracies that cast a dark shadow over the history of Fitz and his world—a shadow that now stretches to darken all future hope. Long ago, Fitz and the Fool changed the world, bringing back the magic of dragons and securing both the Farseer succession and the stability of the kingdom. Or so they thought. But now the Fool is near death, maimed by mysterious pale-skinned figures whose plans for world domination hinge upon the powers the Fool may share with Fitz’s own daughter. Distracted by the Fool’s perilous health, and swept up against his will in the intrigues of the royal court, Fitz lets down his guard . . . and in a horrible instant, his world is undone and his beloved daughter stolen away by those who would use her as they had once sought to use the Fool—as a weapon. But FitzChivalry Farseer is not without weapons of his own. An ancient magic still lives in his veins. And though he may have let his skills as royal assassin diminish over the years, such things, once learned, are not so easily forgotten. Now enemies and friends alike are about to learn that nothing is more dangerous than a man who has nothing left to lose.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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One comment

  1. My husband and I went on a book-buying spree Friday and he grabbed the first book in this series before I could, so he wins (darn it!) I have never read Hobbs, but reading your reviews, I can’t wait to get started. Hmm… maybe I trade two first-round drafts picks for it…

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