Book Review: Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb

fools quest

Format:  hard cover, first edition, 2015

Pages:  754

Reading Time:  about 19 hours

One Sentence Synopsis:  Fitz returns to Buckkeep, Fool in tow, in some highly emotional scenes, but when he finds out Bee has been kidnapped, nothing will stop him in pursuing the kidnappers and attempting to get his daughter back.

 

I can’t tell you how charged with anticipation I was to pick up this book after the cliffhanger ending of the first book in The Fitz and the Fool series, Fool’s Assassin, left me wanting more. Robin Hobb has rarely failed to disappoint me, and I expected Fool’s Quest to be no different. So was that the case? Read on to find out, and note that I’ve kept spoilers here to a minimum, although there will be some spoilers of events in Fool’s Assassin, which is necessary to help shed light on this sequel. First, some excellent guest reviews from cyberspace…

 

Joshua Hill of Fantasy Book Review says: “For those who are not fans of jumping points of view, this book might at times irk, as we continue to jump primarily from Fitz’s point of view, to that of his daughter, Bee. Bee does not receive a lot of page-time in this novel, and when she does the complete juxtaposition in character from that of her father rubs a little raw at times. However, I choose to see that as an example of just how well Robin Hobb has written these characters that the reader is so easily able to see that they have jumped perspective and are now in the mind of a completely different character. In the same vein, Robin Hobb is able to write the Fool in just such a way that he is completely and utterly believably a selfish jerk throughout the vast majority of this book, leaving me, the reader, feeling thoroughly uncomfortable at having to sit through portions of the book where he is whining about one thing or another. But the twist in this is not that the character is badly written, but that his situation has created a person so deeply traumatised and simultaneously hell-bent on revenge that all common-sense and reason has been eaten away, leaving behind only the shell of what once was, and in its place a vengeful and hateful, yet cowardly and fearful replacement. So while I might itch at returning to the point of view of our hero, Fitz, and away from the helplessness of his daughter Bee’s point of view chapters, and while I might desire to throttle the Fool for his absurd view on life, I can do neither (not least because it’s a book) because those are the characters they are, and to be otherwise would result in a lesser story and lesser characters.

Rob B of SFFWorld states: “There are so many things that happen to Fitz (and the Six Duchies) of tremendous import here, I hesitate to reveal any of them. Some are wonderful (Fitz), others are harrowing (Chade), while still others initially provide for a strong sense of cognitive dissonance (Fitz and the Fool). But of everything, the emotional flavor of this novel for me was bittersweet – heartwarming passages and emotional highs followed by the depths of despair. From Fool’s Assassin to Fool’s Quest, Fitz has been dragged through an emotional crucible, as was the Fool to an extent (both emotional and physical) in prior novels. In the Fool’s case we just get to learn more about it here in Fool’s Quest. My point is that these two characters have spent a great deal of time apart dealing with emotional and physical hardships. They both had to have their souls nearly destroyed so they could become the ideal versions of themselves through a rebirth and healing to confront their adversaries. The sense of urgency in the novel is extremely heightened, despite the same reserved pace that made Fool’s Assassin such a joy to read and experience. Fool’s sense of urgency to strike back at his tormentors, combined with Fitz’s desperation to find his stolen daughter made for incredible tension. Fitz’s experience; however, makes him realize rushing into their situation will only be a detriment to their success. Robin Hobb balanced their tension with a quiet reserve during many of the court scenes and meetings that Fitz was obliged to experience very well, giving both frustration and hope. Hobb’s magnetic, captivating prose completely wrapped itself around me.

Beauty in Ruins opines: “Fool’s Quest is an absolutely brilliant book that works perfectly on all levels. It takes the story that was introduced in the first volume, builds upon it, develops it, and sheds new light on what has gone before. More than that, it’s also takes the story that was told in the first two trilogies and develops it in some surprising (but welcome) directions. I won’t spoil the moment by providing any sort of context, but if you aren’t overcome with emotion when Fitz says “The roar of acclaim broke over me like a wave,” then you haven’t been paying attention to the sacrifices he’s made throughout the series…As for the other cornerstone here, I won’t lie when I say that I loved every scene with the Fool. Here is a scarred, broken, damaged man, one who has been robbed of everything from his sense of purpose to his sense of future. He’s come to Fitz for help, for protection, and for revenge. He’s so terrified and so vulnerable that we get to experience another role relationship reversal between him and Fitz. The Fool grows as he heals, prompted by his own desire for revenge, by a surprising revelation regarding young Bee, and by his experimentation with a dangerous cure. His scenes are emotionally exhausting – as they should be – and he proves to be just as stubborn and obsessed as Fitz or Chade could ever be…This is a book that I found myself excited about, from beginning to end, never once lamenting those lulls to build character or reveal the truth behind schemes and actions. It was glorious to properly return to Buckkeep, but I also enjoyed our visits back to Withywoods. More than all that, though, I enjoyed our trips through the Stones the most, especially as they take us to some surprising (and nostalgic) places in the concluding chapters…Fool’s Quest isn’t just a return to form for Fitz, Chade, and the Fool, it’s a return to form for Hobb herself. This is precisely the kind of novel we were all expecting from the opening chapter of The Fitz and The Fool Trilogy, and it has me ridiculously anxious to read the next. The pacing is perfect, the characters ring true, and the world building continues in some delightfully surprising ways. There’s a lot of intimate, personal conflict here, and I really wondered how she would resolve it all, but the final chapters are some of the most satisfying she’s ever written – and that includes the agonizing cliffhanger we’ve come to expect.

 

Fool’s Quest is the middle book in The Fitz and the Fool series. When I read and reviewed the first book, I stated how I was frustrated by the plot but didn’t think the pacing was bad, while being of the opinion that the characterization was superb, what Hobb in essence is most known for. For me, Fool’s Quest reverses some things. I was frustrated by the characterization, thought the pacing wasn’t bad, and I really enjoyed the plot. I’ll get into each of these aspects in a moment, but it’s important to keep in the back of your mind that this book is outstanding, whatever criticisms I may have of it.

The reason I was disappointed by characterization here, which I usually consider to be Hobb’s strength, is the absolute frustration of following characters that wallow in self-pity, selfishness, or cluelessness. Hobb’s treatment of Fool’s character is the single worst decision she has ever made with regard to any of her characters. The mystery, quirkiness, wit and sarcasm of Fool have been stripped away, to leave nothing but a selfish, bitter and broken child-like man. I realize this was a necessary evil for Hobb to get the plot where it needs to go. That doesn’t mean it is easy to stomach, and is in fact difficult to wade through.

Meanwhile, another frustration is following Fitz as he wanders around Buckkeep, clueless that his daughter has been taken, while the reader knows. It made me want to skip ahead to the point where Fitz finally is informed, because you know the story has to pick up at that point. Skipping ahead would be a mistake, as I will relate in moment, but the desire is there. Bee continues to be a delight for me to follow, and even Shun is redeemed a bit, and while still a bit unlikable, speaks to Hobb’s abilities to make you care about a character that you thought you’d care nothing for. One of the best things about Fitz’s stay at Buckkeep, however, is more page time for Dutiful, Kettricken, Elliania, and Nettle, which is long overdue. The relationship in particular between Fitz and Kettricken is quite complicated. As we know from the past, she is more than just a stepmother…Verity used Fitz’s body to help conceive Dutiful with Kettricken. With Dutiful long gone, leaving Kettricken lonely, there are undercurrents of emotional (and even sexual) tension between Fitz and Kettricken that seem incredibly plausible, especially if you’ve studied the activities among the royals of Great Britain and European nations. I’m still a bit confused about Lant’s character – what is his purpose in the story – but I’ll give Hobb the benefit of the doubt here.

Plot is where Fool’s Quest absolutely shines. Despite Fitz spinning his wheels at Buckkeep for a time, it gives Hobb the opportunity to pursue something long overdue. There is a poignant scene that Beauty In Ruins describes above, without trying to be too “spoilery”:

if you aren’t overcome with emotion when Fitz says “The roar of acclaim broke over me like a wave,” then you haven’t been paying attention to the sacrifices he’s made throughout the series.

That’s an incredibly deft way to describe an event without giving too much away. I’ll go along with that, but I will add this: I mentioned in my review of Fool’s Assassin that Hobb is the only author that made me feel so much sorrow, that not only did I have to stop reading as I blubbered at the loss of a character, the hurt stayed with me for days. Here, Hobb achieves the opposite – tears rolled down my face as I was overcome with emotion, but in a positive way. All the wrongs that had been done to Fitz, all the punishment, prejudice and pain, the toiling in obscurity, the absence of a regular life with Molly and Nettle – it is all reversed in a single scene that allows the brilliance of Hobb’s writing to shine more than that of a hundred – nay, a thousand – diamonds. That one scene makes the entire book, and entire series, satisfying and worthwhile. It doesn’t matter what came before, nor where the series is headed…it gave me an amazing moment that I will never forget. Near the end of the is another surprisingly emotional scene involving a character thought long gone. I won’t spoil it, but I will say that it was bittersweet to experience, but I still appreciated that the character wasn’t forgotten. Making an emotional connection between the story and the reader is something Hobb does better than any other writer in fantasy.

As if that weren’t enough, I thought I knew where the plot was going, thinking back to a scene in the original series when Fitz manages to poison a group of men that intend to do him harm. In a surprise twist, things turn out a bit differently than I expected. In fact, Hobb lulls you into the fact that though Fitz still appears to be fairly young, in reality he finds that his age does limit him more than expected. It is such a refreshing alternative to the energy-filled enthusiasm of coming-of-age stories, of which there seems to be an endless supply. But there is also loss that provides motivation for Fitz to truly become Fool’s assassin. In my review of Fool’s Assassin, I mentioned some things that I thought were problems, such as inconsistency in Shun’s characterization, and also things I thought I had cleverly guessed such as Bee’s ties to Fool (though it appears that maybe it wasn’t that hard to figure out). While Hobb explained Shun’s inconsistencies through some dialog from Chade, I still found that explanation a bit implausible.

The pacing isn’t bad. Some found it better in this book than in the first; I thought the first half of the book suffers a bit based on what I wrote above about Fitz being clueless with regard to the welfare of his daughter…we know what happened and have to wait for him to catch up, which takes awhile. The moping bitterness and selfishness of Fool is also a drag on the pace. But once Fitz learns about what happened at Withywoods, the pace picks up and is so compelling that I didn’t want to put the book down. So to summarize, the pace is a little worse than Fool’s Assassin in the first half of Fool’s Quest, but far better in the second half.

In conclusion I can say that Fool’s Quest is outstanding, one of the best books I’ve read this year and it easily tops the list of books I’ve read that were published in 2015. With emotional highs, an unpredictable plot and a bit better pacing than the first book, the only thing that holds Fool’s Quest back a bit is the unusually frustrating (for Hobb) characterization. I am both excited and apprehensive at what I will find in the final book, Assassin’s Fate

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s