Golden Fool: A nearly perfect fantasy novel

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review The Tawny Man Robin Hobb 2. Golden FoolGolden Fool by Robin Hobb

Robin Hobb’s TAWNY MAN trilogy, and the FARSEER trilogy that precedes them, are some of the finest epic fantasies ever written. FitzChivarly Farseer is probably my favorite character in all of fantasy literature and he’s at his best in the TAWNY MAN books. Golden Fool, the middle book in the trilogy, is nearly a perfect novel, and so is its successor, Fool’s Fate. I re-read Golden Fool last week because it’s just been released in audio format by Brilliance Audio (superbly narrated by James Langton) and I wanted to re-visit the series before reading Hobb’s newest book, Fool’s Assassin. Though I’ve read over a thousand fantasy novels since I first read Golden Fool, the book was just as superior as I remembered.

[Please stop here if you have not read the previous book, Fool’s Errand. Spoilers will follow.]

Once again, Fitz has been ridden hard and put away wet. When we caught up with him in the previous book, Fool’s Errand, he and his wolf Nighteyes had retired from royal service and were living quietly and anonymously in a rural cabin. Then they were called out of retirement and asked to find Prince Dutiful who had been kidnapped by the Piebalds, a group of Witted folks who know the prince carries the dreaded beast magic and are trying to blackmail the queen into giving in to their demands. Fitz, accompanied by his best friend, the Fool, managed to save Prince Dutiful, but Nighteyes was killed in the process.

Now Fitz, who is trying to deal with the overwhelming grief of losing his Wit-bonded partner, is back in Buckkeep because he’s the only person who can teach Prince Dutiful how to manage the Wit and the Skill. Dutiful begins seeing Fitz as a father figure (and in some ways this is very appropriate). Fitz has always had Daddy issues and now he must be a father to both Dutiful and to Hap, the young man who he has been fostering for years and who is now ready to begin an apprenticeship. The boys are so dissimilar and offer different types of parenting challenges. Fitz is also aware that his daughter Nettle, who doesn’t know he’s her father, is beginning to use the Skill magic, too. Fitz has to navigate these (and several other) relationships carefully while he deals with all the current court intrigues — a marriage alliance with a former enemy, a trading alliance with the Bingtown Traders, a possible war with Chalced, and the local problems with the Piebald rebels… all while pretending to be someone other than FitzChivalry Farseer, the hated Witted bastard who was supposed to have died in Prince Regal’s dungeons. But Fitz learned long ago that serving the Farseers means that he can never have a life for himself.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsAs I said, Golden Fool is nearly a perfect novel. The characters, most of whom we know from the previous FARSEER trilogy, are fully developed, easily distinguished, and impossible not to care for. The plot is nicely paced with plenty of action but also plenty of the quaint restful moments that Robin Hobb is so good at. A small amount of delightful humor is present in the scenes in which Fitz talks to a cat (Hobb is so good at portraying cats) or interacts with Thick, a mentally-challenged man who has a powerful connection to the Skill. The best part is, as usual, Hobb’s way of describing Fitz’s thoughts and feelings as he considers his life, his duties, his successes and failures, the people and animals he’s loved, and all that he’s lost. I’m not ashamed to admit that I burst into tears more than once.

Golden Fool can’t stand alone. You really must read the first three FARSEER books (Assassin’s Apprentice, Royal Assassin, and Assassin’s Quest) and then the first TAWNY MAN book, Fool’s Errand. Fans who haven’t yet read the LIVESHIP TRADERS trilogy will be fine, but there are some references to some of its characters so if you plan to read LIVESHIP TRADERS (and I highly recommend the series), it would be best to read them between FARSEER and TAWNY MAN, which is the actual publication order.

At the end of Golden Fool, we’re left with some intriguing questions about the connection between this story and that of the LIVESHIP TRADERS trilogy. We also must wonder why Prince Dutiful’s fiancé has demanded that Dutiful prove his love for her by going on an impossible quest. One thing you probably won’t be wondering, though, is who will be accompanying Dutiful on that quest in the next book, Fool’s Fate…. I’ll give you two guesses…

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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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