This is the final book of the Farseer Trilogy by Robbin Hobb. It was published in 1997, almost three years after the first book in the series.
Like the other books in the trilogy, this one is told in a narrative style, from the view point of the main character, the royal assassin Fitz. Also like the other two books, this book is very character focused. Robin Hobb is not telling the story of a crisis the kingdom had to go through, he (It’s actually a she) is telling the story of Fitz, and the crisis more or less takes a back seat to his story.
This worked great in the last two books, most likely because the scope of the books rarely left Buck Keep, but in this one where Fitz actually leaves the keep and goes into the wide world, it leaves the plot a little dry. Case in point, a large part of the book is taken up by a journey Fitz makes across the kingdom, and it’s filled with unnecessary details. Sticking exclusively to the main characters viewpoint might not have been the best idea there.
That said,the character building with Fitz was amazing. He hits his lowest point so far at the start of this book, and that’s saying something considering what happened at the end of the second one. His entire world is shattered, his mind is shattered, and he has to build himself back up almost from the ground up. He is questioning everything, even the loyalty to the royal family that was the foundation of his character. By the end of the book he is not quite fixed, but he is a slightly better person.
Robin Hobb seems to enjoy putting his characters through constant trials and tribulations. Not just the main character, but the secondary characters as well. Fitz is never happy in the trilogy except very briefly when he contemplated marriage (before he lost his love). His bastard birth is always hanging over him, he constantly suffers for the kingdom, even at the end, when he practically saved the kingdom single handedly, he got no reward or recognition. His only reward was being allowed to fade into obscurity, being finally able to rest.
The theme of thankless self sacrifice is also all over the place in this trilogy. Even the cynical, mercenary Farseer royals will gladly sacrifice their own lives for the safety and continuity of the kingdom. They genuinely believe this is the right thing to do, that this is a worthy cause. Fitz is of course, the poster boy for this theme. No matter what the kingdom and the royal family put him through, he is still willing to give up his life for them at the end.
Another rather amusing fact about this series is the title, and titular character himself. We hear touted all through the book that Fitz is an assassin. Not just an assassin, a royal assassin. And yet the entire series showed only one assassination attempt by him, and that was an epic failure. He could just as easily have been made the royal scribe from his track record. But then that wouldn’t make such an eye catching title. Still if the man is an assassin and it’s such a big deal, it should be shown in his story.
Another thing I found rather hard to like was the way Robin Hobb wrapped up the crisis in the last fifty or so pages of the book in a series of plot twists. The entire series was spent slowly making the crisis worse and worse, and it was brought to an end in a single move. And the way it was done was almost slap dash. No build up, no planning, just sudden deux ex machina. The way Fitz dealt with the usurper was the same. Fitz spent the entire series getting pummeled by him and at the very end defeated him and settled the civil unrest of the kingdom in a stroke.
This was a very lord of the rings moment, the ring is destroyed and suddenly the army of Sauron falls apart. It was too sudden. Too abrupt. At least Fitz did his ‘saving the kingdom’ in a suitably assassin like way. By the series end only a handful ever knew him for the assassin he was, or what he did to save the kingdom.
For all my complaints, I loved this book. It’s a great book, just not in the same league as the first one of the series.
I would recommend this book to any fan of the series or any fan of fantasy.