Monday, 8 February 1999

Robin Hobb: Assassin's Quest (1997)

Assassin's Quest coverEdition: Voyager, 1997
Review number: 202

Why is it that publishers' blurbs always describe third volumes of trilogies as "triumphant"? The standard end of a fantasy trilogy is of course the triumph of good over evil, with the heroes and heroines going on to fairy-tale rewards (there is even a passage in David Eddings' Belgariad giving a justification of this ending in terms of the destiny ruling that fictional world rewarding those who have helped it).

There is a triumph of good over evil in Assassin's Quest, but it is far more ambiguous than is usual in a fantasy trilogy, in keeping with the generally dark tone of this series. This is often the case in the better fantasy series, right back to Lord of the Rings. The good are seen to be morally questionable, the bad capable of redemption or justified in their actions; the fairy-tale endings are either bitter or fail to materialise.

The book begins with the mind of the assassin Fitz being restored to his dead body from that of the wolf he was bonded to through the Wit. He sets out to kill the usurping king Regal in his palace at Tradeford, halfway across the country; Regal is responsible for the imprisonment and disfiguring torture that Fitz only escaped by his apparent death. But just when he has Regal almost in his grasp, his prince Verity calls to him from far off, beyond the Mountains; it is a call that uses the Skill they share to make it impossible to disobey, a command imprinted on his mind.

The word "triumphant" could perhaps only be applied to the standard of writing; Hobb does not abandon her bleak vision to cater to the standard selling points of the fantasy genre.

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