Golden Fool: A nearly perfect fantasy novel

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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…

THE FARSEER SAGA — (1995-2013) Words Like Coins is a short e-story published in 2012. The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince is a related prequel novella published in 2013. Publisher: Young Fitz is the bastard son of the noble Prince Chivalry, raised in the shadow of the royal court by his father’s gruff stableman. He is treated like an outcast by all the royalty except the devious King Shrewd, who has him secretly tutored in the arts of the assassin. For in Fitz’s blood runs the magic Skill — and the darker knowledge of a child raised with the stable hounds and rejected by his family. As barbarous raiders ravage the coasts, Fitz is  growing to manhood. Soon he will face his first dangerous, soul-shattering mission. And though some regard him as a threat to the throne, he may just be the key to the survival of the kingdom.

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LIVESHIP TRADERS –(1998-2000) Bingtown is a hub of exotic trade and home to a merchant nobility famed for its liveships — rare vessels carved from wizardwood, which ripens magically into sentient awareness. The fortunes of one of Bingtown’s oldest families rest on the newly awakened liveship Vivacia. For Althea Vestrit, the ship is her rightful legacy unjustly denied her — a legacy she will risk anything to reclaim. For Althea’s young nephew Wintrow, wrenched from his religious studies and forced to serve aboard ship, Vivacia is a life sentence. But the fate of the Vestrit family — and the ship — may ultimately lie in the hands of an outsider. The ruthless pirate Kennit seeks a way to seize power over all the denizens of the Pirate Isles… and the first step of his plan requires him to capture his own liveship and bend it to his will…

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TAWNY MAN — (2001-2003) For fifteen years FitzChivalry Farseer has lived in self-imposed exile, assumed to be dead by almost all who once cared about him. But that is about to change when destiny seeks him once again. Prince Dutiful, the young heir to the Farseer throne, has vanished and FitzChivalry, possessed of magical skills both royal and profane, is the only one who can retrieve him in time for his betrothal ceremony — thus sparing the Six Duchies profound political embarrassment… or worse. But even Fitz does not suspect the web of treachery that awaits him or how his loyalties to his Queen, his partner, and those who share his magic will be tested to The breaking point.

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THE RAIN WILDS CHRONICLES — (2010-2012) Publisher: Guided by the great blue dragon Tintaglia, they came from the sea: a Tangle of serpents fighting their way up the Rain Wilds River, the first to make the perilous journey to the cocooning grounds in generations. Many have died along the way. With its acid waters and impenetrable forest, it is a hard place for any to survive. People are changed by the Rain Wilds, subtly or otherwise. One such is Thymara. Born with black claws and other aberrations, she should have been exposed at birth. But her father saved her and her mother has never forgiven him. Like everyone else, Thymara is fascinated by the return of dragons: it is as if they symbolise the return of hope to their war-torn world. Leftrin, captain of the liveship Tarman, also has an interest in the hatching; as does Bingtown newlywed, Alise Finbok, who has made it her life’s work to study all there is to know of dragons. But the creatures which emerge from the cocoons are a travesty of the powerful, shining dragons of old. Stunted and deformed, they cannot fly; some seem witless and bestial. Soon, they become a danger and a burden to the Rain Wilders: something must be done. The dragons claim an ancestral memory of a fabled Elderling city far upriver: perhaps there the dragons will find their true home. But Kelsingra appears on no maps and they cannot get there on their own: a band of dragon keepers, hunters and chroniclers must attend them. To be a dragon keeper is a dangerous job: their charges are vicious and unpredictable, and there are many unknown perils on the journey to a city which may not even exist…

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FITZ AND THE FOOL — (2014- ) Publisher: FitzChivalry — royal bastard and former king’s assassin — has left his life of intrigue behind. As far as the rest of the world knows, FitzChivalry Farseer is dead and buried. Masquerading as Tom Badgerlock, Fitz is now married to his childhood sweetheart, Molly, and leading the quiet life of a country squire. Though Fitz is haunted by the disappearance of the Fool, who did so much to shape Fitz into the man he has become, such private hurts are put aside in the business of daily life, at least until the appearance of menacing, pale-skinned strangers casts a sinister shadow over Fitz’s past… and his future. Now, to protect his new life, the former assassin must once again take up his old one….

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsFool's Quest: Book II of the Fitz and the Fool trilogy     Fitz and The Fool: Coloring Book Paperback – May 10, 2018 by Robin Hobb (Author), Manuel Preitano (Illustrator)


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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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