There’s nothing more nervewracking about reading a long series than facing the concluding book. So many authors fail to stick the landing and leave you wishing for the return of many hours lost to reading. Not Robin Hobb. The preceding books in the Tawny Man trilogy perfectly set up a list of questions for the reader. Fool’s Fate finishes Fitz’s journey with all the answers that the reader needs and more. Hobb takes us through gutwrenching tragedy and heart-stopping action. She makes you wonder how the story can continue and then drops a new thread that you feel compelled to follow. This is now one of my favourite series and I’m relieved that there is a whole extra series about Fitz that I have yet to read. Spoilers coming up!
Generally, Robin Hobb writes slow-paced books. Her writing makes you feel as though you are with Fitz throughout his daily proceedings, whether he’s finishing up chores or working with Chade on some political issue. This bothered me in her first series, the Farseer Trilogy, but it worked a lot better in the Tawny Man trilogy. The books still took some time for me to fully sink into but once I did I was engrossed. Perhaps this is because Fitz uses his magic in a new way in this later series. He works as part of a coterie with other interesting characters and they have an ongoing telepathic dialogue. Even when Fitz has to pretend to be a guardsman, he is not completely isolated with his own thoughts. This provided intrigue and communication on a very long boat journey.
I was satisfied with the slow build-up of the book but it came as a pleasant surprise when events just exploded. Of course, I expected Hobb to provide action at the climax of the book but SO many things happened. From the moment that Fitz and the Fool fell through the ice, the drama was on the incline. There was the eerie discovery of forged prisoners and the Pale Woman who has been waiting for them all along. Fitz is given the ultimatum; kill the dragon or lose the Fool. Dragons rise, they defeat the stone dragon. Fitz goes back for the Fool, meeting The Black Man on the way and learning of his story. He grieves and resurrects the fool. And more. It felt like Hobb had been waiting for this moment to blow her readers’ minds over and over again.
Robin Hobb has a phenomenal talent for writing characters. Fitz is the centre of this world and he feels the weight of so many people relying upon him, leading to some fascinating relationships. As always, the friendship between Fitz and the Fool was breathtaking. Their intamcy and total love for each other serves as a great example of how fictional friendships should be written. Their ending is beautifully bitter-sweet. Hobb breaks our hearts as she describes the fool’s horror at coming to terms with his torture and death. Then she breaks our hearts anew as the Fool leaves Fitz and plans to stay out of his life. I suspect that this is not truly the end of their friendship. However, knowing that the Fool will be away from Fitz for some years and that the Fool made his choice so that Fitz could be happy with Molly… that’s painful.
Another interesting dynamic is the one between Fitz and Chade. Their relationship grew more complicated as Fitz realised that his old mentor was not as sharp as he used to be. Chade is hurt when Fitz does not show him undying loyalty. He is a strange character. At times I don’t like him but he always piques my interest and I often felt sorry for him. In a lot of ways, the two characters mirror each other. They have both lost years of their lives to the protection of the Farseer throne and deal in secrets and morally questionable deeds. Chade pushes Fitz to sacrifice even more of himself for the sake of the royal family. It is frustrating to see Fitz lose out on so many things but ultimately rewarding when he makes his own choice and ends up living a peaceful life.
Chade sometimes acted as a father figure for Fitz but ultimately Burrich fit that role best. It is undeniably true to his character that Burrich died in a moment of loyalty and protection. For him to have travelled all that way while partially blind showed how he treasured Fitz. One of the important characters had to die for the sake of the risk and drama of hunting down the dragon. It’s sad that they didn’t get to make up for all the lost years but it made sense for the plot and character development. Fitz’s old life finally catches up with him.
Of course, every book has its flaws. One aspect of Hobb’s work that failed to make its mark was the romance. She is great at writing about many types of love; Platonic, paternal, unrequited. Yet, her straight-up romance just hasn’t involved the level of depth that I expected. First of all, there’s Dutiful and Elliania. There was no spark of romance between this arranged pair in the previous book but suddenly in Fool’s Fate they’re into each other. They went from not liking each other to suddenly needing to get it on before the official wedding. It could’ve been done as more of an ‘enemies to lovers’ trope if Hobb had put a bit more passion into their interactions from the start. They were downright impassive before this! Nevertheless, I can forgive this one. Chalk it up to teenage hormones and falling for each other fast.
A less forgivable romantic blunder is the one between Molly and Fitz. I don’t even mind the dynamic of her marrying Burrich after Fitz died and swapping again after Burrich died. It’s weird but… Hobb did handle it in a slow and respectful way at the end of the book. Plus, it added drama. If Molly had been a bit more interesting it would have worked better. Fitz has been besotted with her since his youth. It almost makes sense with the context we learn in this book. He gave a part of himself to the stone dragon and thus he has not had the full spectrum of feeling in his life. So Molly would be the only one love that he recalled having full-on romantic feelings for. In spite of this… Molly’s character needs to be much more engaging to warrant years of pining.
To be fair, not every fantasy book needs an endearing romance and it wasn’t a massive part of the book. The pros still far outweigh the cons, especially since the main love of this story is between Fitz and the Fool. This book sucked me in and sent me on a quest to discover some dragons and uncover a mystery. The world and characters are so well developed that nine books from Fitz’s perspective feels reasonable (and that’s coming from someone who generally prefers multi-perspective books). It is impressive that Hobb can stick with one character and follow his maturation in a way that feels authentic and true to character. I particularly love the Fool’s character and I hope that he is still a big part of the future series. I am obsessed with these books and I hope I can find another author that gets it like Hobb does.
Robin Hobb has written another incredible work of fantasy with wonderful characters and a surprisingly action-heavy plot.