Fool’s Fate: Robin Hobb

★★★★½

The Tawny Man Trilogy: Book III

I was in no position to even think about writing a post immediately after finishing this (the tears would have been in the way) and, even after a night’s sleep, I feel emotionally crushed and somehow hollow. Yes, I’ve read it before, but that was ten years ago and I scarcely remembered any of it: the essence, rather than the detail, of the end. No doubt I’m going to lose my equanimity at some point during this post and start talking about fictional characters as if they’re real… I apologise in advance for that, but it can’t be helped.

In the last few days, reading this final book after a virtually a month spent in Hobb’s world, I’ve been so deeply immersed that on occasion it’s felt far more real and vital than reality itself. And no other fictional character causes me the same degree of frustration as Fitz does; my reading of both The Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies has been accompanied by a regular litany of, ‘Fitz! You’re such an idiot!’ (which faded away in the final book to a simple whimper of ‘Nooooo’ every now and again). But that frustration is born from the fact that this loyal, flawed, stubborn, lonely man is so entirely plausible. I can’t do with Fitz what I do with other characters, which is to sit back and wait to see what the author does with him. I find myself constantly berating him, urging him on and occasionally resisting the urge to thwack him. As I said back at the beginning of Assassin’s Apprentice, I started reading The Farseer books when I was twelve. Rather embarrassingly that means that I’ve ‘known’ Fitz and the Fool for longer than I’ve known most of my friends (an occupational hazard as a reader). You see why I find it difficult to be objective. I trust that no one here would dream of saying, “It’s only a book,” but just in case… Books, good books, are never only books. They open up a part of the soul and leave their imprint there.

The book begins with the final preparations for Dutiful’s mission to the ice-island of Aslevjal. He has been charged with slaying the black dragon Icefyre, whom Outislander legend says slumbers beneath the glacier, in order to bring his head to the Narcheska Elliania and win her as his wife. In these last days, Fitz busies himself with a number of pressing issues: melding the Skill coterie under his command; trying to prevent his adopted son Hap from making the same mistakes Fitz once did; and, above all, ensuring that the Fool has no way to follow them to Aslevjal and the death he prophesies for himself. With a little help from Chade and the city guard, he seems to have succeeded in the latter, at least.

The journey nevertheless has its own issues. Thick’s fear of water results in powerful Skill-sendings that threaten to overwhelm the entire crew. Fitz’s dream contact with his estranged daughter Nettle is increasingly invaded by the dragon Tintaglia, seeking further information about Icefyre. It soon becomes apparent that the Narcheska’s challenge has driven a wedge between the Outislander clans. And then, as the ships finally approach Aslevjal, in a brilliantly cinematic moment, Fitz sees a lone figure standing on a headland, watching them approach. Waiting for them. And he realises that it will take more than human endeavour to keep the Fool from fulfilling his destiny.

Fitz. Please. Do not tempt me to follow you and interfere in the future I saw for you. Do not tempt me to step out of my time and try to take something that was never meant for me.

If you haven’t read the book, stop now. If you have read it, then please do come along and help me try to unravel my feelings about it. First, I loved the way that Hobb brings yet another culture in her world to life: the Viking-like Outislanders with their powerfully matriarchal culture, their motherhouses and their superstitious belief in the Black Man and Pale Woman – figures who turn out to be far more than mere myths. I’ve always commended Hobb’s world building and this was another excellent example. I should also note here, which I forgot to mention last time, about her humanity as a writer: she has always, even in The Farseer trilogy, emphasised that the Skill runs strongest in those who are somehow different, and she makes that point more strongly here with Thick. She allows us to see the cruelty and lack of understanding that her world presents to him, and yet at the same time she shows us his remarkable strengths, while treating him with the same gentle irony that she does her other characters.

And there was one other thing that particularly struck me. I had forgotten, since my first reading, the scene in which the Fool restores to Fitz all the pain and shame and youthful agonies which he poured into Girl On A Dragon in Assassin’s Quest, and this took on an intriguing new light in view of my recent reading of Ship of Destiny. To what extent, I wonder, can we draw parallels between Fitz and Kennit in this respect? (There is an amusing but possibly coincidental aural similarity between their names, if we go with the name by which Fitz’s mother called him – Kennit / Keppet.) Both have reacted to their painful childhoods by literally pushing the memories out of their minds and both have ended up as less than whole men, because ultimately humanity is the sum of everything we have within us, good and bad. Having seen Kennit’s miserable end, the Fool is presumably determined not to let Fitz suffer in the same way and to give him back everything he needs to know himself as a whole person. And in this particular case, perhaps painful memories are the greatest gift one person can give to another.

Robin Hobb's Fool

The Fool, as imagined by John Howe, who designed the covers for my editions of Hobb’s novels

Fool’s Fate is full of Hobb’s characteristic skill, but it’s a cold, hard book and not just because of the barren icy landscapes the characters find themselves wandering through. There are levels of physical brutality that we haven’t seen since Royal Assassin, including some truly horrific moments. This is coupled with a new sense of emotional detachment as Fitz, already parted from Nighteyes, finds himself increasingly estranged from the Fool. It felt as though Hobb has suddenly realised how interdependent she has made her two main characters and, knowing what will come, tries to make the bond lighter. The result is that, on the one hand, Fitz suddenly gains a place in a community, as he is tied into a network of relationships with his fellow Skill-coterie members, Kettricken, Dutiful and the members of the court who make their way to Aslevjal. On the other hand, I couldn’t help feeling that the warm thread of the relationship between him and the Fool, which provided the glowing heart of the previous books for me, was here more muted, making an uncomfortable void at the centre of the story.

Although I know that there are many people out there who love these books as much as I do, none of my friends ever read them and so I would love to know what other readers feel about the end. I think that to some extent your feelings will differ depending on which aspect of the story you’ve taken to heart. If you see The Farseer, The Liveship Traders and The Tawny Man as a trilogy of trilogies about the return of dragons to Hobb’s world, then I suppose you’d have to feel that the ending is a triumph (and in fact the story wouldn’t even be over yet, because there are more dragons in the Rain Wild Chronicles). If you see the two Six Duchies trilogies as telling the story of Fitz’s efforts to find the peace and comfort in life that has eluded him so far, well, then this too is a happy ending. He becomes valued not for his skills as an assassin but as an adviser, companion and friend to Kettricken and Dutiful; he rebuilds his filial relationship to Patience (who I think is such a wonderful character); and he finally manages to find contentment in a simple, sweet relationship with Molly, his much-longed-for childhood sweetheart. He is finally at peace with himself. So yes: I read the final pages and my mind told me, ‘this is a happy ending. I should be happy’.

But my heart didn’t share that conviction. Throughout the books, both on my first read and particularly on this reread, the most captivating and moving aspect of the story for me has been Fitz’s connection with the Fool: the comfort that two outsiders have found in a friendship that is, literally, strong enough to change the course of history. And I’ve always believed that it was the Fool, rather than Molly, whom Jinna ‘saw’ when reading Fitz’s palm in Fool’s Errand. I had forgotten quite how this part of the plot ended and, by God, it upset me deeply. The moment which shocked me most, oddly enough, was that in which the Fool takes away the Skill-fingerprints on Fitz’s wrist, thereby severing the last vestige of their connection. (That was a “Nooooo” moment.) I couldn’t believe that either of them could genuinely contemplate a future in which they would neither meet again nor have any sense of each other through the Skill bond, after all they’ve been through for each other. Yes, I can follow all the justifications which Hobb implicitly makes through her characters. I can see the decision as a final gesture of selflessness by the Fool. I can rehearse all the arguments to myself and they sound as if they should make sense – that sometimes it’s precisely because you love someone so much that you need to let them go – but it doesn’t help the situation. It’s still not fair.

I know it’s wilful, but I won’t – I can’t – believe that this is truly the end.* It would break my heart to believe that. Fortunately Hobb is generous enough not to make any conclusive statements. She leaves a tiny sense of possibility flickering in the final lines of Fool’s Fate. And so, left with that little flame of hope, I take comfort in knowing that  the story isn’t over. I don’t necessarily want to read any more of the official version, to be told once and for all what does happen. On the contrary, as it stands, we can all decide for ourselves how we secretly think Fitz’s story should end.

I want to believe that many years further on, when Fitz is old and his family are dispersed and self-sufficient, he finally does what he’s always talked of doing, and makes his pilgrimage to the Mountain Kingdom to carve his dragon. And I want to believe, when he finally arrives there, that the Fool will be waiting to help him.

Buy the book

* And it wasn’t!

And so, time for another of my beloved Hobb Cover Features, with beautiful, creative or just simply odd editions from around the world.

19 thoughts on “Fool’s Fate: Robin Hobb

  1. Antebar says:

    Thank you for the touching review. 🙂

    Greetings from Italy

    Barbara 🙂

    PS: Robin is writing the next Fitz&Fool book. It will be probably published in 2014.

  2. The Idle Woman says:

    You mean there's going to be more?!!!! Be still my beating heart… Barbara, you have just made me very happy but also absolutely terrified. Where can the story go from here, I wonder; and what if it's as sad as this one? Dear God, I'm not going to be able to resist buying that book but my heart's going to be in my mouth when I start reading it…

  3. The Idle Woman says:

    Thanks for the link – yes, I can see why she was annoyed (and to have the book suddenly appear on Amazon when it isn't even written yet must be deeply irritating!). My one concern is that she implies she's writing it not because she's burning with more stories to tell but because her publishers wanted her to. However, I put my faith in the fact that she evidently feels there *is* more to say (otherwise she wouldn't have agreed to do it) and that she's taking such care to get it right. I feel rather sorry for her, as the pressure must be vast even without the public scrutiny – she says herself, quoted on this link, that she feels if she gets it wrong she'll have 'ended her career'. Eek. Well, fingers crossed. I have faith in the fact that if she didn't feel it couldn't be done well, then she wouldn't be doing it.

    Funnily enough I was having a discussion a couple of days ago about whether or not I should read the Rain Wild Chronicles, but now I suppose I *should* because there's a chance that something might be of significance for this next book…?

  4. Heloise says:

    I agree, and think that's what her saying that she wants to work at it privately and slowly is about, her emphasizing that she will write a story that she wants to tell not one that her publisher and fans will want told. However, after reading The Rain Wild Chronicles, I can't help but feel that she has become somewhat bored with traditional Fantasy, so I'm not sure how excited I should feel about those news.

    Maybe even more now that I've read all of your reviews and they made me remember again why I loved those novels so much. I might have mentioned this before, but I really should be reading them all again…

  5. The Idle Woman says:

    Yes, I think I remember you saying something along those lines before 😉 In the light of what Barbara kindly told me, I can't feeling that my post now looks rather over the top, but hey, never mind. Just hope that what Robin Hobb wants to happen doesn't diverge too wildly from what I hope will happen, otherwise I'll be totally destroyed after this next one. Wonder if it's a standalone novel or the start of a whole new trilogy?

  6. Heloise says:

    Some may call it over the top, I call it being passionate about literature and consider it A Good Thing. 😉 – And while keeping a critical distance is all nice and good, I think it is the privilege of us non-professional book bloggers to be allowed to go into gushing fangirl mode once in a while – it's a sign (to ourselves as much as to our readers) that we have not become totally jaded but still retain our enthusiasm.

  7. The Idle Woman says:

    Good heavens, I'm sorry I made you cry! (The idea made *me* cry, but I was in a rather emotionally raw state and it wasn't meant to be catching.) But I'm glad you agree with me that this is how it *should* end. If it turns out to be different, we can just form a little sect of non-believers and refuse to accept that it happened any other way. 😉

    Personally, if the Fool turns out to be a dragon, I'm going to be a bit annoyed because I like him just as he is… but who knows what's going to happen? I just really, really hope that it isn't a disappointment. Whatever *does* happen, I don't think it's going to involve skipping off into the sunset surrounded by flowers. I don't think Fitz does things that way.

  8. Ruthie says:

    I have just finished the Tawny Man series and I thought the ending was good. Fitz and the Fool had their own seperate lives to complete. But when I read how you thought they would ultimately end it made me cry, that would be so perfect if they both went into the dragon at the end of their lives.

    I felt that they had consumated their love when they did that skill touch in Verity's tower, it was so intimate, I don't think you can get that much closer to anyone. Also I don't think the Fool is quite human, I think he is closer to being an Eldering or a dragon. Can't wait for the next book. . .

  9. Laetitia Guerlain says:

    Hello and thank you for your touching review ! I just finished re-reading the 2 trilogies for the 2nd time and I ended up in tears, as usual… it's great comfort to me that someone feels the same way I do about the books : I feel as if I had lost my best friends each time I reach the end, and I feel quite crazy !

    The relationship between Fitz and the Fool is the most beautiful thing I have ever read. The ending of the book is bitter-sweet to me, since they part away in such an incomplete way, missing each other in the end… this is truly heartbreaking and unbearable to me. At the same time, I acknowledge that Mrs Hobb has written a perfect ending : it does sound so true to her characters, that the book could not have ended another way.

    Still, what bothers me is Fitz's reaction to the Fool's decision. I remember that when he finds his friend's corpse, he carries it away from the Pale woman saying something as “My dream was dead in my arms”. My dream ? How do you interprete that ? And then the scene when he calls him back to life, calling him “FitzChivalry” is soooo powerful…. and then, in the end, the Fool thinks he's dead, and Fitz doesn't do anything about it after having expressed such strong and deep feelings for his friend ?? Isn't that a bit weird ?!

    This can only mean that there will be a next book about them, hopefully written from Fitz's voice… because this is how emotions are conveyed between the two of them. Let's cross our fingers !

    Laetitia, from France !

  10. The Idle Woman says:

    Hello Laetitia – thanks so much for your comment! It's always good to meet someone else who shares my love for this series. I don't really know the answers to your questions, of course. Why doesn't Fitz correct the Fool's assumption that he's dead? Well, maybe partly because without the skill link he doesn't really know where to go to find him or send a letter. Or because Fitz sees the chance of building up a life for himself with Molly and sees no reason to go running back to complicate the Fool's attempts to make a new life on his own part?

    In a way, I wonder whether perhaps it's best not to seek answers to some of the other questions? Part of the book's appeal, for me anyway, is its great sensitivity and its willingness just to let things be… without trying to explore or explain them too much. As Fitz himself finds out, once you try to define things too clearly, you risk damaging them. 😉

    As I say above, I thought that the book *could* have ended another way – but that was before I knew there was going to be a new instalment. I think you're right and that the new book has to be written in the same way as the others – i.e. in first person with Fitz narrating – otherwise it's going to be completely different in feel. Besides, Hobb has Fitz's voice absolutely nailed. Writing as him probably feels like putting on some favourite shoes, which you barely notice you're wearing. 🙂

  11. Laetitia Guerlain says:

    I couldn't agree more with you. You have a way of expressing just how I feel about the books ! I know it would be silly to expect Fitz to send a letter or something and I know he just has this tendency to accept things the way they are anyway (because of his wolf's part, I guess)… still, I just wanted to express my selfish feeling that it is not fair to the poor Fool !! 😉

    Still, I agree that the book is all about not defining people, and willingness to let things be, as you stated it. And that tastes bitter, as life sometimes does. And this is why Mrs Hobb's writings are so different from any other fantasy books I have ever read. It is so realistic and she manages to make her characters appear… hum, I don't know how to state this (english is obviously not my mother tongue), but thick, real. In fact, the books are not so much about fantasy than about feelings, gender, identity etc. I know many readers complained about the books being very slow and descriptive, but this is precisely what I love about them ! Whenever I pick up the first volume on my bookshelf and start reading it all over again, I have the feeling to get back home after a long journey !

    Let's just hope the new book will be released in 2014 as announced and not in 2015 or 2016 because I cannot wait that long !! (I'm just a emotional wreck right now : it always takes me a few weeks to get back to normal after finishing FF…)

  12. Laetitia Guerlain says:

    Arf, no, I haven't read the graphic novel… I hesitated but I eventually decided not to, because the whole beauty of the saga, to me, lies in the long descriptions, in Fitz's thought process, in how he constantly reflects upon his life; well, everything that makes the characters so solid… So I felt a graphic novel would not nail that… besides, the Fool is described as being androgynous, and I felt I would be disappointed by the drawing of him anyway… it must be awfully difficult to draw a face in which you can see either a woman or a man… He's so mysterious (and precious) a character that I prefer to imagine him ! And, last but not least, I read very negative feedback on the graphic novel, both by readers who knew the books, and by readers who didn't.

    But it is funny you asking me this, because for the last couple of days, I started reconsidering my position, i.e. borrowing the graphic novels from the library and at least give them a try… just because I miss the characters so much… I'll let you know if I do !

    Which leads me to another question : have you read “Dragon keeper” etc ? (sorry it's the 1rst time I read your blog and I guess you must have said so somewhere). I strongly hesitate… I'm afraid I'll just be looking for any hints on what the Fool is up to… and not relate to the characters (I felt that way reading Liveship). On the other hand, if a new Fitz-Fool novel is soon to be released, reading the Dragon saga will certainly help understand the new world they evolve in, don't you think ?

  13. The Idle Woman says:

    I'm in exactly the same position, actually. I haven't read Dragon Keeper and wasn't planning to – because my friend Heloise has read it and didn't think it lived up to the beauty of the earlier books. We had a discussion about it in the comments somewhere… However, if there *is* to be a new book then, as you say, I feel I should read this new series in case there are any clues which will be useful later! I think I probably will end up reading it, and I suppose the trick is just not to have your expectations set too high.

    Yes, that's another point – I didn't actually look far enough in the graphic novel to see how they'd imagined the Fool. He would be immensely difficult to visualise properly. If I can't even imagine him in my own mind then I'm surely not going to agree with what anyone else comes up with. 😉

    Incidentally, I have to compliment you on your English, as you mentioned earlier it's not your native tongue. 🙂

  14. Leander says:

    You have it exactly – they feel very solid and real. Although I always assumed that Fitz just tends to accept things and then angst about them because he can be a bit of an idiot (I say that with great fondness of course). If emos had been invented at Buckkeep, he'd be one. 🙂

    I thought the new book was coming out either at the end of this year or early next year – good heavens, it's going to be a bit of a shame if we have to wait for much longer than that. Although, to be honest, I'm still not sure I *want* to know what officially happens…

    I wonder, have you read the French graphic novel of the Farseer trilogy? As I said elsewhere, I can't get over the fact that Fitz doesn't look as I imagined him, but I'd be interested to know from someone who has read it whether it's good!

  15. Laetitia G. says:

    Thank you so much, that's sweet 😉 And I agree with you on the fact that I do not really imagine the Fool either : he's solid to me because of his personality. I don't even try to picture him, actually.

    Also, Soleil éditions (editor of the graphic novel) are known in France (at least to graphic novels aficionados such as myself) because they specialized in graphic-novels set in fantasy worlds… often in a mainstream/ commercial way… so I really dread what they made of “The Farseer trilogy” (by the way, they also adapted Liveship…) because the authors obviously drew it on command…

    As to the “Rain Wild Chronicles”, I guess I will end up reading them too… but it's hard to pick up another book after Fool's fate : I call it the Fitz-Fool effect : everything seems dull in comparison 😉 Nonetheless, I resumed reading “Game of thrones” yesterday (I had begun ten years ago), and at least, you cannot get too emotionally involved with Martin's characters, since he makes them die regularly, important or not !

  16. Tim says:

    Hi,

    I can relate a lot with what you are telling. I also started reading Assassins Apprentice 16 years ago when I was 14. Quickly followed with the whole Farseer Trilogy. When I finished the series, The Tawny Man was not yet released, so I started with the liveship trader's and had the same feeling. It just wasn't right. I got stuck after chapter 3 and put the series aside. A little while later the Tawny Man came out and I started reading them.

    I loved the books but completely missed the threads that were spun in the liveship traders. Afterwards I started reading the Rainwild Chronicles and discovered that I missed a lot but continued reading it. A year ago I retried the Liveship traders and just like I saw in your review of the books I loved them this time. I read them more carefully looking for hints for the Rainwild Chronicles but came up finding a lot more Six duchies stuff.

    So in stead of finishing of the Rainwild Chronicles (I still need to read the fourth book). I started rereading the other once. Because of the hints in the Liveship books, but also because Robin Hobb had officially announced that she was writing a new Fitz and Fool book. I remembered the grand storylines but found out a lot more details.

    But it was only when I was in the first book of the Tawny Man and the Tawny Man himself is at Fitz his doorstep that I recognized him as Amber and that because of the name of his horse. It's a nice wink, but must it be so obvious?

    I loved all the books in the Elderling world of Robin Hobb. I also think the Rainwild Chronicles are more than just another series in the same world. I didn't start reading Fool's assassin, I rather like reading the Rainwild Chronicles first, I guess there will also be some interweaving. I strongly urge you to try them also, you will come in some recognizable landscapes and some mysteries are a bit more unraveled. But also the opposite exists some mysteries in the Rainwild are no mystery for those who know what Fitz did…

    Concluding this I now start rereading the first book of the Rainwild's in the hope that when I start reading the Fitz and Fools series, the series is almost complete and I don't have to wait too long before I can start the next book.

  17. Bengt says:

    Lovely review! Fitz and I have now (Fools assasin) reached about the same age. I can tell you that it gives a special feeling.

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