Saturday, 9 April 2005

Robin Hobb: Fool's Fate (2003)

Edition: Voyager, 2003
Review number: 1288

The final novel of The Tawny Man trilogy has a plot which is at its heart a traditional fairy tale, the epitome of a fantastic quest. Even the names of some of the characters could come from a fairy story. Prince Dutiful cannot marry his princess until he carries out the quest she has set him - to kill a dragon and bring its head to lay on the hearth of her ancestral home. On every level except this basic summary, however, Hobb does not follow tradition. The dragon, for example, is not ravaging Ellannia's homeland, but lies entombed alive in a glacier. And the quest is not set merely from a desire for Dutiful to prove his heroic worth, but there is a dark, secret motive behind it. Then, of course, there is the involvement of Fitz, central character of this and the earlier Farseer trilogy, a royal bastard who carries the powers of both kinds of magic known in the Six Duchies, the royal Skill and the despised Wit. Finally, there is the Fool, Fitz's closest friend and now known to be the White Prophet, who sees the attempt to travel to the far north and kill the dragon as the pivotal event in his dreams of the future.

Many of the characteristics that readers of the earlier novels will have come to expect from Hobb are here in full measure - the fascinating ideas, the engrossing storytellers, the believable characters - together with the gentler approach of this trilogy. This is not to say that Fool's Fate is lacking in events that affect Fitz, just that they are not so catastrophic as in the Farseer books which saw him, at one point, taking poison to escape torture and then having his dead body brought back to life. This novel features a Fitz approaching middle age, however, no longer fit or eager for such drastic adventures.

The most interesting part of the novel is the ending, so those who don't want to know should look away now. The general run of fantasy stories keep to the juvenile fairy story ending - bad guys polished off, the good live happily ever after. Usually, the book is made "adult" by arranging for some relatively minor good character to die off on the way, making it possible to claim that the author has produced something more than totally trivial escapism (and even then, the death may not be permanent - see for example David Eddings' Belgariad series). Hobb has an ending which is much more truly adult, with deaths, partins and renewal of relationships - and a lot of sadness. The final words of Fitz's narrative, ending not just this novel but I suspect the whole of Hobbs' chronicle of his life, are simply "I am content". I would say that this is really the closest a mature tale like this can come to happily ever after.

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