Friday, June 05, 2020

39. Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb (part 2 of the Farseer Trilogy)

I finally got my package from Thrift Books.  I think it took over two months!  Whatever method of mailing they are using, I will ask them to try something else, even if I have to pay a bit more.  I suspect the pandemic only played a small role in the delay, because I received several other packages from the States during this time and they were all quite prompt.  This reeks of Canada customs to me.

When I decided to start reading this trilogy, my goal was to immerse myself in a fantasy or sci-fi series and even try to read them consecutively.  I did a bit of reading around on the web and Hobb's work came up several times.  I can say that for the most part, I am happy with my choice.  Her world-building is rich and absorbing, with plenty of mystery that makes you want to keep reading.  She has an excellent balance of detail that gives the world weight and interest without ever bogging down.  And in these two books, the scope of the conflict is very gradually being revealed to be much bigger than the immediate issues of the red-ship raiders on the coasts of the Six Duchies and the internal conflict of the royal family.  I am motivated to read on to the third book and am seriously considering jumping into another one of her series or trilogies.  My understanding is that many if not all of them take place in the same world and one narrative may brush against or even interact with another that reveals more depth about each.

The Farseer trilogy is centered on FitzChivalry, bastard son of an abdicated and murdered prince who is molded as a spy and assassin for his grandfather, the king.  He is an underdog right from the beginning, treated like shit at first because he is a bastard and then worse later because he is considered a threat to Prince Regal, his decadent, ambitious half-uncle, who is clearly the antagonist.  FitzChivalry gets to do all kinds of super cool stuff.  He has The Skill, basically psychic powers in this world.  He also has The Wit, the ability to bond with an animal that is considered a heresy in the culture here, with some very interesting parrallels to communism or homosexuality in the way it is persecuted and the way Fitz handles the guilt and fear associated with the natural pleasure it brings him.  The Wit brings him an awesome Wolf partner and enables him to berserk in combat.  He learns to sneak, to spy, to poison, to fight with an axe. 

So there is some great fantasy wish fulfillment here.  The trouble is that Fitz can't enjoy any of it. He is such a bummer, always fretting and stressing and making up all these reasons why he can't just kick ass and solve his problems. His problems are manifold and many of them truly beyond his power.  One of the frustrations with this book, as I felt with the last one, is that some of them are not beyond his power.  He and other characters around him seem sometimes artificially ignorant and passive.  It is just so clear who the bad guys are and what they are up to. For instance, the king for some reason loves Regal and favours him, but is other wise super savvy.  Why does not all the good guys just explain to him that his favoured son is deliberately undermining their security?  Another example is when out fighting these mysteriously powerful and destructive red ship raiders, Fitz sees a strange white ship coming out of the fog and it fills him and the others with incredible dread and pessimism.  He is the only one who saw it and he never tells anybody about it.  Hello, it is obviously some greater evil force directing the red ships.  He has the complete trust of his allies.  Why would he not say "hey there is some greater conspiracy here, we need to find out about these white ships and go after them"?

There is enough character development and depth of situation that a lot of Fitz's fretting and passivity makes sense, so I definitely kept reading.  And I get that you need resistance and conflict so when there is a climax, it is satisfying (and this one is here).  It's just that at times I got too frustrated to keep reading and had to take little breaks.  I am hoping the third book will have a bit more of him gaining confidence and skill and whooping ass on the badguys.

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