“I have known beauties and joys that tried my heart’s strength as surely as the tragedies and uglinesses have. Yet I possess, perhaps, a greater share of dark memories than most men; few men have known death in a dungeon, or can recall the inside of a coffin buried beneath the snow.”
Whew! Lets dive right in, shall we? Obviously if you know me or have followed me for even a few months, you know that HOBB IS LIFE for me. One of my all time favorite authors, so with this awful year, it was easy to dive back into these for some comfort rereads. That beginning! You really get some insight on what Fitz went through during the tragedy that befell him in Book Two of Farseer (Royal Assassin). This is a part of the larger series called The Realm of the Elderlings. From the beginning of this novel, you feel this monumental, earth shattering loss that he is experiencing while he is isolated, as well as a raw look at the abuse he went through and the trauma it caused.
“He added, “You don’t take out your temper on them, or confuse punishment with discipline.”
Molly looked shocked at his words. “Discipline comes from punishment. A child learns discipline when she is punished for doing something wrong.”
Burrich shook his head. “I’d like to ‘punish’ the man that beat that into you,” he said, and an edge of his old temper crept into his voice. “What did you really learn from your father taking his temper out on you?” he demanded. “That to show tenderness to your baby is a weakness? That to give in and hold your child when she cries because she wants you is somehow not an adult thing to do?”
There’s so much genius in this novel. The way we relive the destruction that Regal caused through the eyes of a man who is more wolf than man at this moment. More child than man, even. We see this mix of tenderness and gruffness by Burrich that is needed by Fitz. Burrich IS that rough looking dad who is all heart and wisdom, he cares about every living being. There’s such poignancy in Burrich relinquishing his ideals for Fitz just to keep him alive. If you’ve made it this far in the series, you’ll know that Burrich wants “better” than the Wit for Fitz, but letting Fitz take solace in it is the only way to keep him whole. There’s such love in that, setting aside pride and morals for someone else’s wellbeing. Hobb evokes these deep emotions that often strum that core of sadness that lies deep within us all, but if you dust off that sadness, there is compassion and affection woven in. She is one of those authors that can reach into your heart and soul to coax out all of those emotions. Sometimes, when I see the remarks of people that don’t like her writing, I wonder if it is because they don’t LIKE to feel all of those heavy, profound responses that her writing can pull out of oneself. I don’t blame people for shying away from those heavy feelings, but it just reminds me what a marvel of a writer she is. This is a story about how sacrifice makes legends and that can be hard stuff to stomach. I have said it once and I’ll say it again, I am a book masochist. GIVE ME ALL OF THE HARD TO STOMACH EMOTIONS.
Within the first moments of the book and throughout, you realize how much of a bridge Fitz is to each of these character’s live unto each other’s. Every single one of our main characters, he has become a monumental part of their loves. He’s bridged the gap between many of them, given quite a few renewed reasons to live, though he doesn’t realize his own worth to all of these people. He stokes allegiance in those around him, whether they meant to care for him so much or not.
Hobb writes so vividly that she has made Regal one of the most dislikable villains I have ever read. He’s just too REAL and pompous, the cruelties he has carried out on multiple members of his family—unfathomable. He shows no remorse, he calculates. It’s not like Regal is this utterly unique villain—he’s the youngest prince brother who greedily wants to take the throne for his own. He will force anyone out of his way, whether they care about the throne or not. We have seen this before in literature, but Hobb evokes these protective feelings in us over the other characters, she can make you feel the weather of that unwarranted jealousy that Regal exudes. It’s just in her writing. Hobb is the queen of emotive writing. Another thing about her writing that is especially notable in this book, is that she relishes imagery. The world she writes is so lush, that you feel you could sink your hands into the soil, smell the mountain air, or feeling the sobering coolness of a stream. Her writing is almost feel interactive in her ability to pull you into the scenery. She can bring scenery, people, and emotions to life effortlessly.
“It is also the Wit that sends a mother to her child’s bedside just as the babe is awakening. I believe it is at the heart of all wordless communication, and that all humans possess some small aptitude for it, recognized or not.”
What I find interesting and beautiful about this book, is that besides The Wit (which people actually consider a curse, WHAT?!), Fitz isn’t this naturally talented hero. He’s well-trained and well-educated, but he doesn’t naturally excel at the Skill. He isn’t able to fully protect himself against those stronger, his triumphs in life aren’t because he’s this amazingly strong Skilled man. He actually fucks up a decent amount. The love and support of those around him has helped him overcome the most astounding of setbacks. One of the things about Fitz’s story that draws me back again and again, is that this isn’t a story where the bastard comes up and takes the kingdom by storm. We have seen those underdog stories where it is a rag to riches, *powerless to most powerful* type of tale. This isn’t one of those. Fitz’s life is most likely harder than his life would have been as a simple villager. He may have been poorer if he never came to Buckeep, but his life wouldn’t be as complicated. The path of his life would have been up to him a bit more. His story is riddled with tragedy and hardship, and that makes it more real and endearing to me. On the flip side, he also experiences a safety net of love, loyalty, and adoration that he likely would have never experienced if he were just a simple villager.
“It is only that she thinks that you love me,” I tried to explain.
He gave me an odd look. “I do.”
“I mean, as a man and a woman love.”
He took a breath. “And how is that?”
“I mean …” It half-angered me that he pretended not to understand me. “For bedding. For …”
“And is that how a man loves a woman?” he interrupted me suddenly. “For bedding?”
“It’s a part of it!” I felt suddenly defensive but could not say why.
He arched an eyebrow at me and said calmly, “You are confusing plumbing and love again.”
This is the first time that we start to see the deep connection between Fitz and the Fool. Before, the Fool was a friend to Fitz and King Shrewd, an interesting, yet significant side character. In this, we realize how intrinsic he is to Fitz’s life. Hobb captures an intimacy here that has always struck me to my core. This idea that platonic love can be as strong as love that includes sexual acts, that a friend can be as much of a soulmate as your actual mate. This is something that needs to be explored more often, and Hobb does so tenderly and eloquently. The Fool is much more in tune with his emotions and he helps Fitz become comfortable with his sexuality and with expressing this deep love between them. I know there’s people that want The Fool and Fitz to be together, but aren’t they? They are joined as much, if not more, than Fitz and Molly. It doesn’t have to be a sexual relationship, and I don’t think The Fool WANTS a sexual relationship with Fitz. They have LITERALLY shared minds and bared souls to each other. They are pack, as Nighteyes reiterates. This hang up that sex equals intimacy is one of the big messages that Hobb and The Fool are there to debunk.
“Not a song of heroic strength and mighty-thewed warriors. No. A song of two, graced only with friendship’s strength. Each possessed of a loyalty to a king that would not be denied.”
When it comes to The Fool, she also has created this air of mystery. Fitz thinks of “him” as “he” while Starling confides that she believes The Fool is a woman. Are they human? Are they a man or woman? Does it matter? The androgyny in The Fool is so natural and The Fool is quite a progressive character compared to the traditional fantasy published in that time. As of recent, modern fantasy has become more and more inclusive but Hobb was truly (maybe unknowingly) a pioneer in this regard. Not to mention the fact that she firmly planted her feet in a genre that was predominantly male, AND fights against toxic masculinity with each stroke of her pen.
“She needed someone to confide in and, for a time, chose me. Perhaps it was easier for her to do that if she believed I was a woman, also.” He sighed again. “That is one thing that in all my years among your folk I have never become accustomed to. The great importance that you attach to what gender one is.”
“Well, it is important …” I began.
“Rubbish!” he exclaimed. “Mere plumbing, when all is said and done. Why is it important?”
In this volume, we have another added source of magic: memories. Rowling might have learned a thing or two from Hobb. I don’t want to say HOW memories are used and spoil the wonder of finding out, but it’s truly an inspiring incorporation. We also see the full power of the Skill as we haven’t seen before. There’s a moment that the Skill, these memories, and the Wit combine into a moment where we FEEL the sheer breadth of Fitz’s tragedies and his triumphs. It is excruciating, humbling, and heart-wrenching. Hobb also follows by the rules of nature, to use these strong magics WILL cost, often at a dear price. You don’t get away with these bursts of unexplainable power without giving something in return. There’s reason and limits to magic in this world.
“Comes the Catalyst, to make stone of flesh and flesh of stone. At his touch shall be wakened the dragons of the earth. The sleeping city shall tremble and waken to him. Comes the Catalyst.” The Fool’s voice was dreamy.
We get our first true glimpse of the Elderlings. At this point, we get a bit more world building than we usually get from Hobb. Because she’s such a character driven person this bit went a bit slower for me but if you’re all about world building, the time spent weaving the world is pretty cool. Fitz’s time on the skill road holds this hazy, fever-dream quality to it and Hobb’s artistry flourishes. This moment can seem to drag, but having read all of the books, I think it is important to soak in the Elderlings and how far they are from the reality of the current world.
A difference with this book to the last two is that there a few more moments of info dumps and lingering scenes devoted to that imagery I mentioned earlier. Is this enough to make me give this less than 5 stars? Nope. I thought about giving it 4 stars and it hurt my heart too much. Hobb is just AMAZING. This book may have some moments that lasted longer but THAT ENDING. The WRITING. The deep relationships. Knowing the wider scope of things and the JOURNEY that has only just begun. The true life lessons she weaves in through all of our characters. She’s a mastermind. Nope, she deserves all the stars in the world. I could truly ramble on and dissect every character; the strength and vulnerability in Molly (who is often much disliked), the devastation of corrupt leadership, the trajectory of the Catalyst, HOW MUCH I FREAKING LOVE NIGHTEYES AND THE PACK (…“This? This is Nighteyes? This mighty warrior, this great heart?”) but I’ll leave some stuff up to imagination. It takes everything in my willpower to not spoil this whole story just because I want to talk about it. She’s genius, she is QUEEN. If you can handle emotional, gut wrenching storytelling, read some Hobb.
Also… YES. You should read the all the series in the order she intended you to read them even if you want to skip back to Fitz.
•The Farseer Trilogy •The Liveship Traders Trilogy •The Tawny Man Trilogy •The Rain Wild Chronicles •Fitz and the Fool Trilogy • There’s also some short stories