I liked but wasn't overwhelmed by Robin Hobb's Soldier Son series - one of the few Hobb books outside the Farseer universe. I had a similar reaction to her last 'Farseer' series, the Rain Wild Chronicles, but for different reasons. The universe of the Soldier Son didn't really grab me. In Chronicles, it was the writing - good but not great, and I worried that Hobb had lost her touch.
With Fool's Assassin, I'm happy to say, the best Robin Hobb is back. This is a story in the best tradition of the Farseers, with mystery, magic, and most of all, character. Fitz is, as ever, a flawed man - trying his best, but making mistake after mistake with family and friends. He's credible and lovable. Unlike, say, Thomas Covenant, whom you mostly want to bang on the head, Fitz is trying - he's making the best he can out of what he's given - but much of the time he's just not very good at it. You feel for him, you understand him, and his choices aren't all obviously wrong.
Happily, as the title suggests, there's more about the Fool in here, and the bond between him and Fitz, the Fool's background, and where he's been all this time. It's all effective, and Hobb does a very nice job of reminding us of key bits of the characters' pasts.
At the end of the book, Hobb does run the risk by introducing some fairly two-dimension evil. With the Hobb of Chronicles, I'd have worried. With this Hobb - the real Hobb - I'm confident she can pull it off.
Some have suggested that Rain Wild Chronicles was aimed at a young adult audience. If it was, perhaps that explains the lower than expected quality of the writing. I'm not sure why it would be necessary, however. Hobb's books, including Fool's Assassin, are perfectly accessible to teens. This book has a scene through which I wept and wept and finally had to put the book down for a while. But it's no more wrenching than the emotional upheaval I found as a child in The Owl Service or Old Yeller.
If you like fantasy at all, get this book. It's a prime example of what well written, intelligent fantasy looks like, and why, when she puts her mind to it, Robin Hobb is at the top of the heap of fantasy writers.