Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb – 5 out of 5 stars
Source: ARC from Netgalley
Published by: Harper Voyager
Released: 12th August 2014
Buy it from: Hive
In a nutshell: Fool’s Assassin is…
What you might expect to read if the inhabitants of Westeros stopped to ponder on their thoughts and motivations instead of rushing ahead to burn, fight and kill at every opportunity. In other words: Game of Thrones for the more considered reader.
Tom Badgerlock is a middle aged steward, looking forward to a quiet life in his manor with his wife, now that his children are grown and safely settled. But all is not as it seems. Tom has another name, and a shadowy past that threatens to invade the new life he has tried so hard to build for himself, forcing him to take action.
I was trapped in the body of a man of middle years, still subject to those passions and impulses, still relying on the strength of my right arm when I would have been wiser to stop and employ my powers of reason.
I’ve never read Robin Hobb before. And now I’m really annoyed with myself that I’ve been avoiding her novels for so long! After barely being able to make it through the first couple of chapters of Lord Foul’s Bane, the first of the renowned Thomas Covenant series some years ago, I’ve been suspicious of “must-read” series books, each the size of a doorstep. Fool’s Assassin is not one of those.
Although this is the first of a series, it follows on from a number of other books set in the Farseer universe, grouped together in a series known as Realms of the Elderlings. However, you don’t need to have read the others to make sense of this book. It’s set some time after the previous book and the backstory is explained in the course of the book. It helps that Tom Badgerlock, the main character, is given to long bouts of internal musings. He questions almost everything and sets it against his past experiences, which means that you find out the pertinent parts of the past without it feeling overly planned.
However, these frequent internal monologues also give this tale quite a leisurely pace. It spans more than a decade in the course of its 600 or so pages, so if you’re the kind of reader who likes to go from character introductions to full plot revelation in the first third of a book then this probably isn’t the right read for you. Personally, I really enjoyed the slower pace because it gave me a chance to understand the world and immerse myself in the everyday details. I’ve always been the kind of person who needs to understand the bigger picture, rather than just being given the information relevant to the task in hand, so this story is just perfect for me.
It helps that Robin Hobb has borrowed a number of elements of mystery novels too. At times this feels more like a medieval crime procedural than a straight fantasy, and collecting and mulling over the clues provides an intriguing sub-occupation for the reader, as they are sprinkled in between the more domestic passages that set up the wider story arc.
The characters here are rounded and complex. I don’t think there were any characters that I outright liked as paragons of virtue (but aren’t those just boring anyway?) Some of them drove me crazy even as they were drawing me in and others yet revealed softer sides of the characters just when I was ready to consign them to the ‘bad guy’ pile. From the main players to the supporting parts, each character is just so real!
It’s not often that I find a world as rich, complicated and realistic as life outside the pages, but here I think I’ve found one. And it’s a good ‘un.
Readers looking for a twisting, turning puzzle of an epic fantasy novel, who aren’t afraid to invest some time to allow the story the space to tell itself. This would also make a brilliant Christmas gift for the fantasy book lover in your life as it just begs to be read on a cold afternoon near a warm fire… mead optional!