FitzChivalry Farseer, who barely survived an assassination attempt by his uncle, Prince Regal, has returned to Buckkeep where the King, his grandfather, lies dying. His other uncle, Prince Verity, is exhausting himself by trying to keep the kingdom together in the face of increasing attacks by the Red Ship Raiders. The Raiders continue to capture and, through some unknown process, “Forge” citizens of the Six Duchies. When these Forged citizens, who are now more like animals than people, are released, they start moving toward Buck Keep. What are they doing? Do they have some sort of programmed mission? What is the goal?
When Prince Verity leaves the castle to look for the ancient (perhaps mythical) Elderlings, life becomes even more difficult for Fitz. He has the horrible job of tracking and killing the Forged Ones; he must avoid Prince Regal’s attempts to kill him; he suspects that King Shrewd is being poisoned; he has to keep secret his ability with the Wit; he has to make sure Kettricken, Verity’s Queen-in-Waiting, is happy and safe in her new home; he must stay away from Molly, the girl he’s in love with while keeping Celerity, the girl that King Shrewd wants him to marry, at arm’s-length.
It’s all rather grueling and the story becomes more and more intense as time goes on. Fitz has the choice to sit and sulk, or to suck it up and act like a man. Fortunately, Fitz has some allies who he knows he can trust: Burrich, the stable master who raised him; Chade, the assassin who trained him; Patience, his dead father’s seemingly scatter-brained wife; and the Fool, an enigmatic little fellow who sometimes shows up with a mysterious riddle that turns out to be exactly what Fitz needed to hear.
Royal Assassin is an excellent second book in Robin Hobb’s FARSEER SAGA. It’s full of action, great characters, intense emotion, political intrigue, and ugly treachery. It’s a little hard to believe that a teenager could be wise enough to be counseling royalty on statecraft and affairs of the heart, but it’s hard to resist FitzChivalry Farseer’s appeal as the inconvenient bastard of a much-loved dead prince. In the first book, Assassin’s Apprentice, Fitz was protected from his ambitious uncle Regal by King Shrewd and Prince Verity, but Shrewd is dying and Verity is gone, leaving Fitz to fend for himself. Hobb hasn’t treated Fitz well up to this point so, even though these events are related in the first person by a future Fitz, the reader feels no assurance that Fitz is going to be okay. And, indeed, he isn’t — the ending is surprising and devastating.
I’ve read these books before, but I can’t wait to torture myself again with the third volume of the FARSEER SAGA: Assassin’s Quest. This time I’ve been reading Tantor Audio’s versions which are narrated by Paul Boehmer who does a great job portraying some of my favorite characters in all of fantasy literature.