by Robin Hobb
Published by Harper Collins, Harper Voyager Pages: 667
on August 12, 2014
Tom Badgerlock has been living peaceably in the manor house at Withywoods with his beloved wife Molly these many years, the estate a reward to his family for loyal service to the crown.
But behind the facade of respectable middle-age lies a turbulent and violent past. For Tom Badgerlock is actually FitzChivalry Farseer, bastard scion of the Farseer line, convicted user of Beast-magic, and assassin. A man who has risked much for his king and lost more…
On a shelf in his den sits a triptych carved in memory stone of a man, a wolf and a fool. Once, these three were inseparable friends: Fitz, Nighteyes and the Fool. But one is long dead, and one long-missing.
Then one Winterfest night a messenger arrives to seek out Fitz, but mysteriously disappears, leaving nothing but a blood-trail. What was the message? Who was the sender? And what has happened to the messenger?
Suddenly Fitz's violent old life erupts into the peace of his new world, and nothing and no one is safe.
First in The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy, itself a subseries within the Realms of the Elderlings in which it falls seventh — my best guess! The first trilogy is the Farseer Trilogy and the second is Tawny Man, followed by this story.
A special thanks to NetGalley and Harper Voyager for providing me this eARC which I enjoyed so thoroughly.
This was such a soft, easy, and cozy read for most of the story. It’s such a lovely life with bits of conflict inserted here and there until it suddenly culminates in one major conflict after another, ending so suddenly with the worst. And yet, when I go over my notes, it’s not really that cozy or soft. I think my impression came from all the reminiscing that Fitz does, from the comfortable life he and Molly have at Withywoods. There’s so much love and joy at the start of this that you can’t help but feel that comfortable sweetness.
That reminiscence is a huge and detailed past with tons of intrigue, suspense, and danger hinted at within the story — and I have got to go back and start at the beginning with Assassin’s Apprentice, Farseer 1.
And that’s one of my niggles with this story. Hobb has us slipping along in our cozy comfort, crying here, laughing there, building, slowly building the intensity until she suddenly kicks us off the cliff we didn’t know was there. Of course, it could also be my anger at the way in which Hobb left us, dangling from that cliff with a slippery, thin, and fraying thread.
“We live in our bodies. An assault on that outside fortress of the mind leaves scars that may not show, but never heal.”
An old friend has been trying to contact Fitz, Molly believes she’s pregnant — for several years, former coworkers are pressuring Fitz to return to his profession, but Fitz is too comfortable with his easy life. It takes a drastic event for him to realize how easy that life had been. A sadness that hits Fitz first and then Bee as they come to realize how very much Molly took care of them.
Writing has a big part in this story, for Fitz is either copying scrolls or writing about his own past on a nightly basis. His biography started as a history of the Six Duchies, but it evolved and changed perspective as Fitz matured. There’s one section in which Fitz speaks with Chade about why he writes, and I believe writers would find it of interest.
“If a few students come reluctantly to their studies, let them go. If all students come reluctantly to their studies, then let your scribe be dismissed and find another. For once students have been taught that learning is tedious, difficult, and useless, they will never learn another lesson.”
It’s also full of people who can hear nothing but what they want to hear. Nettle with her demands that Bee come to Buckkeep and be warehoused because she’s so stupid, despite what her mother has been telling her over the years. Despite what Fitz tries to tell her. There’s the ill-mannered Shun and FitzVigilant who don’t understand their true positions, the debt they owe Fitz when they tear at Bee. And, heck, ill-mannered is a very mild epithet I toss at these two jerks. FitzVigilant at least has been to court and should have a much better idea of proper behavior, especially at table.
I’m not very happy with Fitz either. He should be leaping in much sooner to support his daughter. He should respect her intelligence. God knows he’s talks about it enough. He claims he can care for Bee, but at every stand, he proves he can’t. He loves her. He loves her very much. And he is supposedly this great spy who notices everything. Everything but how unhappy his daughter is. Supposedly he’s intelligent, but he doesn’t apply that intellect to his daughter. Lastly, there’s his leaping in to attack without knowing what’s going on.
Ah, it’s so sad when Fitz tries to play a game with his daughter. When we learn this is the only kind of game he knows, and he believes he’s failed. Again. And so much sadder still when Bee is nine and she’s with her mother in the lavender garden. Oh, god, I cried and cried. It was so unfair.
You’d expect that the ending, as horrible as it is, would be the worst to happen, but it’s not. Not really. It’s that expected death that hurts the most.
It’s been a long haul for Fitz to finally have what he’s always desired: Molly. Now he revels in his Molly, in the Winterfest party Molly adores. Meanwhile, the messenger is abandoned. To her fate, it seems, as three erstwhile musicians wander the party. Incidents at the party which are merely a forewarning of what is to come.
Yet another shock is Molly’s announcement of her pregnancy, a years-long one. Fitz can only regret the fading of her mind. Until that is, the baby is born but doesn’t seem to thrive. And fear chills Fitz’s heart for he worries what the Farseer royals will expect of his child, more than he would want her to bear.
It isn’t often that Fitz leaves Withywoods: he accompanies the former queen to her father’s funeral, confronts Chade about the assassin he sends to Fitz’s home, in between he regrets and adores his teeny daughter, and he will protect her with everything he has. His daughter, the Bee who refuses to let him touch her, who follows her mother everywhere, who does not speak.
It’s Bee who warns him of the butterfly man, and Fitz finds the messenger from the Fool. The dying messenger with the warning of the son. It’s Bee who helps the crippled and blind beggar at Oaksbywater, an action that may well result in death. But before that knife falls, both Bee and the beggar can see so much more clearly . . . Bee sees a myriad of paths into the future while the blind man, well, the blind man can see again, but only briefly until his assassin strikes.
FitzChivalry Farseer * is now known as Holder Tom Badgerlock, and he and his lovely wife of eight years, Lady Molly Redskirts, live at Withywoods, a beautiful estate that serves so many. Fitz had been Wit-bonded to Nighteyes until the wolf died. Lady Patience is Fitz’s stepmother and the widow of Prince Chivalry, Fitz’s father who died in a riding “accident”. Nettle is Molly’s oldest, a daughter. She’s also Fitz’s true daughter and a Skillmistress whose strongest talent is Skill-manipulation of dreams who spends most of her time in Buckkeep Castle working for King Dutiful. A spy insinuated into the house, Riddle used to be the house steward until he and Nettle fell in love. Molly’s six sons include Chivalry who is building a fine horse breeding operation; Swift with his Wit-bond with a bird; Nimble; Steady who is part of the king’s Skill-coterie, able to lend Strength; Just (he’s barely 20); and, Hearth (he’s 17). Burrich had been Molly’s first husband and father to the boys. The famous minstrel, Hap Gladheart, was an eight-year-old orphan when Fitz took him in. Bee is their late-in-life baby. Stripy is the hunting cat who will clear the corridors for Bee.
Revel is the new steward who was trained by Riddle; Dixon is Revel’s right hand. Tallman is the stablemaster; Tallerman is his son. Perseverance “Per” is Dapple’s groom and exercise boy; one day he’ll be Tallestman as he’s Tallman’s grandson. (Dapple’s name soon changes to “Priss” to reflect her nature.) Shepherd Lin is in charge of the sheep; Daisy is his dog while Boj is his son. Nutmeg is the cook. Mild is Cook’s daughter. Tavia. Elm and Lea are scullery maids; Taffy is the kitchen lad. Opal and Pansy are new kitchen maids while Cor and Jet are the new footmen. Careful will become Bee’s maid — at last! Shaky Amos is mostly retired although he is given tasks from time to time. Bulen is assigned to FitzVigilant as his servant.
Per, Elm, Lea, and Taffy will be among the estate children being taught with more attendees including Lukor, Ready, and Oatil who are also from the stables; Spruce; Larkspur is the gardener’s boy; and, several others.
Lord Chade Fallstar is the king’s spymaster, an old assassin turned adviser, and Fitz’s great uncle and mentor. Thick is a simpleton but highly and strongly Skilled. Lady Rosemary is Chade’s current apprentice; a spy chosen by Prince Regal from the beginning. Shun is another apprentice of Chade’s. A cocky, conceited, ill-mannered one who thinks too much of herself. Quiver tried to teach her while Rono died for her.
Kettricken is the former Queen of the Six Duchies, King Verity’s widow, and King Dutiful‘s mother; Dutiful is the third Farseer king Fitz has served. Courser is the name of Dutiful’s dog. Dutiful’s wife, Queen Elliania, is of a matrilineal people and spends much time taking their sons, Prosper and Integrity, to visit her mothershouse. King Eyod of the Mountains is Kettricken’s father, and she is the heir to his throne with Dutiful in line after her.
The Fool whom Fitz called Beloved is the White Prophet whom Fitz hasn’t seen in 10 – 15 years. He also masqueraded as Lord Golden, a jester for King Shrewd. Garetha was a gardener’s maid while Laurel was a Witted huntswoman, and Jofron, a toymaker in the Mountains, is another possibility. Prilkop was the Black Man who had been the Fool’s traveling companion; he is an example of a White Prophet who lives long.
Lant FitzVigilant is the apprentice assassin they send with Kettricken to invade Bee’s nursery. Later he will be sent to Withywoods as Bee’s tutor to keep him safe. At one point, Kettricken’s entourage includes Lady Solace, a healer, and her husband, Lord Diggory, and Lord Stoutheart with his wife, Lady Hope.
Web is a Witmaster who is bonded with a gull, Risk. Pacer is the cobbler. Jeruby is the boy Fitz orders to drive the cart of puppies to Withywoods. Rube is to clean up the head.
The Wit is a despised magic as it bonds with animals. The Skill is a collection of hereditary talents that often manifests in the Farseer line of kings and queens. Forged is a state in which a man is stripped of his humanity and they love only themselves. It had been a dark magic used by the Pale Woman and her captain, Kebal Rawbread. The Six Duchies are six kingdoms now united under one king. Oaksbywater is the largest market town close to Withywoods Manor. The stone portals, the Witness Stones, are a magical transporting device that can’t be used too often and only be used by someone with Skill. A King’s Man must have a close affinity to the one he serves and lend his strength when they require it.
El is a sea god while Eda is the goddess of farmlands and pastures. Sa is the two-faced and double-gendered god of Jamaillia.
A White Prophet is born in every third or fourth generation with a gift of prescience and ability to influence the course of the world. The Servants of the Archives located on the Pale Isle were once those who served the White Prophet folk.
FitzChivalry Farseer is technically dead. His genealogy, origins??, are so confusing. When he was “alive”, he was the bastard grandson, nephew, and cousin to kings — a firstborn son of an abdicated king which would be Prince Chivalry. His mother was Hyacinth Fallstar who became a foot soldier for Duchess Able of Farrow. When she became pregnant, she returned to her farm and took a husband, Rogan Hardhands, who did not like his stepson, Keppet, but supported Hyacinth in having him educated. The Fool thinks Fitz is the Catalyst, the Unexpected Son, who would save the world.
The cover is a golden textured background with an assassin’s banner flying on a long spear-topped pole, two swords crossing on a royal blue background. The “F” in the title is embraced by an open “window” that shows us a blue sky and a building in the background with a bee flying above the “window”.
The title is exact as the Fool’s Assassin almost kills him.