With Robin Hobb's Rain Wilds Chronicles series, I feared that she had lost her touch. The first book of this new, more adult trilogy, Fool's Assassin, proved me wrong; it was her best book in some years. This second book in the trilogy is just as strong.
Fool's Quest confirms Hobb as one of the field's very best fantasy writers. The writing is smooth, effortless, and moving. The plot is carefully and credibly constructed. We gradually accrete pieces of the answers we've been wondering about over the series' 14 (!) previous books.
It's hard to say that the length of the series is a drawback, since most of the books have been extremely enjoyable. You can certainly read this book without reading all the rest, but you'll definitely get the most out of it if you know all the background. Hobb does a good job of tieing all the pieces together and providing key reminders, but I wish I'd had the time to go back and re-read everything that came before. Maybe I'll try that before the next book, which promises some important answers.
While I loved the book for most of the time I was reading it, a few things brought it lower than I'd originally anticipated.
- Bee (Fitz' daughter) seems a bit too adult in her writing, even considering who she is.
- Fitz starts to get very 'Recluce' toward the end, by which I mean that he returns over and over to a single character refrain - in this case, his oft-spoken determination to act alone. It's overdone for a character trait that we already know very well. Fitz' moping about it doesn't add that much to the story.
- Torture - the book has a glaring central hypocrisy that isn't well addressed. The Fool has been tortured, and that's terrible - he and Fitz need to go out immediately and kill everyone involved. Fitz tortures some other people - well, he needs information, and besides, he's angry. It's the quintessential 'what we do is good; what they do is bad' flaw. Hobb makes a token effort to note that torture doesn't work, but Fitz, for all his introspection, mostly falls back to 'I'm ashamed, but I had to do it.' I wish Hobb had chosen a different route; for me, this does not fall at all in the 'awful necessity' category, and it makes Fitz a lot less likable.
At its best, the book reminds me very favorably of the first Deryni trilogy, before it got too wound up in religion and politics. Overall, an excellent book flawed by a brief and inconsistent treatment of torture.