Wednesday, 21 April 2004

Robin Hobb: The Golden Fool (2002)

Edition: HarperCollins, 2003
Review number: 1232

Hobb's policy of making life unpleasant for her protagonists has wavered somewhat in the second novel of her third trilogy, though she does not end up falling into the trap typical of the middle parts of fantasy series where often very little happens. (A typical trilogy is organised as: volume one, set up a quest; volume two, travelling to destination; volume three, carrying out task which is the purpose of the quest. This means that volume two either has to have a lot of scenery, character development or action to keep the pace up.) The release of pressure actually works rather well as this novel is in a large part the story of how Robb's protagonist Fitz begins to cope with the death of the animal with which he had a magical bond through the Wit, the wolf Night-Eyes.

The fight which ended the first novel in the Tawny Man trilogy, Fool's Errand (in which Fitz saved the life of Prince Dutiful at the cost of Night-Eyes) has thrust him right back into the forefront of the secret world that maintains the Farseer regime in the Six Duchies. The various elements which make up this novel have to be fitted around Fitz's public identity, as servant Tim Badgerlock to Lord Golden. He is also expected to train Prince Dutiful in the use of the Skill, the other major branch of magic known in the Six Duchies, spy over the delegation from the Outislands who are negotiating to marry the Prince to one of their heiresses to cement the treaty which ended war between the islands and the Six Duchies, advise the queen on her quest to bring an end to the persecution of the Witted, and protect the Prince from the Piebalds who sought his life. At the same time, he has concerns in his private life, in addition to coming to terms with his grief; he has to look out for his foster son, Hap, now an apprentice, and he is in the middle of a stuttering love affair.

There is a lot going on in The Golden Fool, but even with its complex little plot lines Hobb finds space to expand on her characters and their relationships. Most of the plot remains unresolved, as is only to be expected in the middle of a trilogy, and, likewise, much is not going to make as much sense to a reader who hasn't read Fool's Errand (and it would be helpful to have read the Farseer Trilogy as well). There are many fantasy authors who would be well advised to read The Golden Fool and think about how Hobb has put it together; it is a paradigm of how to hold the reader's interest in the middle of a series.

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