Edition: Voyager, 1996
Review number: 169
Royal Assassin is the second of Hobb's Farseer trilogy, and it is a novel which very definitely points the way to part three. At its beginning, the situation is difficult for the Six Duchies and for Fitz, the illegitimate royal prince who is the hero of the series. The kingdom is being invaded by the Outislanders, who turn many of its subjects into the Forged (virtually mindless beings who live only to satisfy their desires, whatever the cost to any others). The crown prince Verity, recently married, is forced to neglect his new queen to try and save his kingdom; the king, Shrewd, is incapacitated by a terminal illness. Verity also has to defend himself against the machinations of his half-brother, Regal, who wants power but lacks the morality and indeed the intelligence to use it for the good of the kingdom. It is through working against his plotting that Fitz has already fallen victim to a poison Regal administered, one which if it does not kill can ruin its victim's health for life. In addition, he willingly gave up much of his strength telepathically, to help Verity stave off a mental attact from a Skillmaster loyal to Regal rather than the kingdom. (Magic in this series is basically divided into two branches, the Skill, which is telepathic contact between humans, and the Wit, a bond between man and animal considered unnatural.)
This is the situation at the beginning of Royal Assassin, and the book consists of Hobb thinking up ways in which it can get worse (with considerable inventiveness). A desire for a happy ending - which is a major reason why people read genre fiction, where they are almost guaranteed - impels the reader to move on to part three. (I suspect that in this case the desire may be disappointed.) Basically, Royal Assassin is well written and involving, but distinctly depressing.