The End of an Era: Robin Hobb – Fool’s Fate

It has been very long since I read the previous book in the Tawny Man Trilogy and even longer since I devoured a Robin Hobb trilogy in one go, but I’ve been yearning for the kind of immersion and deep character work she is known for. And I also finally felt ready to face what would happen in this book. Spoilers for The Farseer Trilogy, The Liveship Traders trilogy, and the first two Tawny Man books below (including some in the synopsis) – I’ll keep it to a minimum, but it’s impossible to talk about the plot without mentioning what happened before.

FOOL’S FATE
by Robin Hobb

Published: Voyager, 2003
Paperback: 805 pages
Series: The Tawny Man#3, The Realm of the Elderlings #9
My rating: 8/10

Opening line: The White Prophet’s premise seems simple.

The triumphant conclusion to the Tawny Man trilogy, from the author of the bestselling Farseer and Liveship Traders trilogies. The moving end to the tale of the Farseers, in which kingdoms must stand or fall on the beat of a dragon’s wings, or a Fool’s heart.
A small and sadly untried coterie – the old assassin Chade, the serving-boy Thick, Prince Dutiful, and his reluctant Skillmaster, Fitz – sail towards the distant island of Aslevjal. There they must fulfil the Narcheska’s challenge to her betrothed: to lay the head of the dragon Icefyre, whom legends tell is buried there deep beneath the ice, upon her hearth. Only with the completion of this quest can the marriage proceed, and the resulting alliance signal an end to war between the two kingdoms. It is not a happy ship: tensions between the folk of the Six Duchies and their traditional enemies, the Outislanders, lie just beneath the surface. Thick is constantly ill, and his random but powerful Skilling has taken on a dark and menacing tone, while Chade’s fascination with the Skill is growing to the point of obsession.
Having ensured that his beloved friend the Fool is safely left behind in Buckkeep, Fitz is guilt-stricken; but he is determined to keep his fate at bay, since prophecy foretells the Fool’s death if he ever sets foot on the isle of the black dragon. But as their ship draws in towards Aslevjal a lone figure awaits them…

If you’ve come this far, you pretty much already know what to expect from a Robin Hobb book, especially one set in the Six Duchies. What sets this book apart from most of the previous ones, though, is that we know ahead of time what the big quest will be. In The Golden Fool, everything is already set up and we’re prepared to follow Fitz and the others on their journey to Aslevjal to find and slay the dragon Icefyre, so Prince Dutifull can gain the Narcheska’s hand in marriage and secure an alliance between the Six Duchies and the Outislanders.
So it seems like this could be a somewhat boring book. Of course it is not, because we’re talking about Robin Hobb here and even when nothing much happens, she manages to keep me glued to the pages because her characters are just so stunning.

Being back with Fitz in Buckkeep truly felt like coming home. It took me no time at all to remember all the characters, and fall in love with them all over again. Thick especially grew dear to me, as annoying as he can be. Just wait until you see his reaction to being on a boat… 🙂
The beginning of the book is mostly spent in prepraration for the journey to come but it’s also a time of training and bonding for the Skill coterie. And let’s not forget Fitz’ foster son Hap, his daughter Nettle whom he still visits in his dreams, and the fact that the Wit is no longer outlawed. There’s a lot going on and Hobb juggles these plot lines effortlessly alongside the main story. So while it’s true that nothing epic happens at the beginning, I felt it was perfect to find your way back into this world, familiarize yourself again with the characters and setting, and slowly sink into the story.

Whereas in the previous books the bond between Fitz and Nighteyes was always the most defining one, here this shifts to Fitz and the Fool. Nothing and nobody can ever replace Nighteyes of course (come to think of it, I believe that’s why I didn’t continue reading the trilogy… I was too sad and simply wouldn’t accept Fitz without Nighteyes.) but that doesn’t mean that Fitz and the Fool’s relationship isn’t incredibly strong in and of itself. I loved that we got to see the Fool from yet another perspective, that he showed himself vulnerable in ways he never has before. Again, if you’ve read this series up until this book, you know that there are quite a few sides to the Fool and that he can never be pinned down. Maybe it’s because I waited so long between books but I definitely thought that Fool’s Fate showed us the most honest and heartbreaking version of the Fool. There’s also the fact that his vision has shown him he will die if the quest is a success – so you have that sword hanging over your reading head the entire time…

Fitz has lived a life filled with pain and heartbreak and this book set a similar tone from the very start in order to prepare me for more crying. I’m not spoiling anything here but I will warn you that there are several moments that made me cry like a baby, some of them were kind of expected (but no less sad), others came out of nowhere, and yet others brought me tears of joy – yes, it is possible for good things to happen in a Robin Hobb book!
I’m making this sound super depressing but it’s really not. There are plenty of beautiful moments between characters, especially the slowly growing bond between Fitz and Thick, Fitz and Nettle, Dutiful and the Narcheska, and many others. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to explain how exactly she does it, but Robin Hobb has a way of drawing characters in a way that makes them feel like actual real people. You may have noticed me mentioning Thick a couple of times but I just  loved him so much. He is described as mentally slow, often withdrawn into his own world, and most people don’t exactly respect him. But he also happens to be one of the most powerful Skill users. And Hobb wouldn’t be Hobb if she didn’t show him as a full human character with likes and dislikes (boats, in particular), hopes and dreams, as well as feelings of friendship and love.

Representation has become more and more prominent in recent SFF books but I’ve rarely seen a character who is described as less intelligent than others (Flowers for Algernon comes to mind, but that’s pretty much it) and yet drawn with so much care and love on the author’s part. I especially loved that Thick isn’t put on a sort of disability pedestal simply because he is smart in a different way. He can be super annoying at times, but that only made me love him more. Because he feels real!

I’m leaving out the entire part where all the Big Stuff goes down. After a long-ish build-up all the epic things you expect do happen (and then some) and others don’t, but there is plenty of action and many emotional moments that make the pages fly by.
The ending – unlike in so many books – is also a bit drawn out. Because whether you fulfill a quest or not, whether you save the kingdom or not, things don’t just magically fall into place after that. An adventure may be over, but the aftermath is a whole different story. For Fitz, that means coming to terms with everything that’s happened, picking up the pieces of his many relationships and trying to find a way to live a life with as much happiness as he can grasp.

I thought it was a thing of beauty. The bittersweet conclusion to the third Realm of the Elderlings trilogy truly feels like an end. By now, we know there is another trilogy with Fitz as the protagonist, but I think when Fool’s Fate was written, it was really supposed to be the end. On the one hand, it would have made a great ending to a very long story, on the other hand, I’m more than happy that there are more Fitz stories ahead of me. This time, I won’t wait so long again. I just have to make a quick trip to the Rain Wilds first and see what’s up with those dragons…

MY RATING: 8/10

4 thoughts on “The End of an Era: Robin Hobb – Fool’s Fate

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