Royal Assassin

Robin Hobb
Royal Assassin Cover

Royal Assassin


The brutality continues, in that emotionally subtle way that for me has rapidly become trademark Robin Hobb.

Following the events of Assassin's Apprentice, FitzChivalry Farseer is a broken shell of a man. After a long convalescence in the Mountain Kingdom he decides to return home to Buckkeep and continue his service to King Shrewd. But in the power games of nobility, not all enemies are external, and Fitz will have to deal with the dangerous ambitions of those circling the throne in much the same manner that the Red Ships circle the Six Duchies.

Robin Hobb's incredible bildungsroman continues as Fitz faces some of his most intense, brutal trials yet. Hobb's writing continued to be a major factor in my enjoyment of the tale as Fitz deals with not only the treacherous ambitions of Prince Regal, but with personal problems of his own as his oaths begin to affect his relationship with Molly. These two issues overlap and interweave as Hobb generates a nebulously tangled tapestry of court intrigue, emotional conflict and philosophical binds into one of the most intense stories around.

This is high fantasy done brilliantly right.

In Royal Assassin, Fitz is now a full fledged killer for the Crown. But the star of this show wasn't the action as Fitz sows death among the Forged and raiders alike. Rather, it was on the emotional trials he faces, the first from his relationship with Molly. As Fitz finds himself more and more subject to the whims of court life and the orders of his King, he is slowly but excruciatingly torn between love and duty; his love for Molly, or his love for his King. There can be one, or the other, but never both. It is a problem that Fitz struggles with through the length of the book, oscillating back and forth until events force him to come to grips with his true path.

But love was not the only problem on Fitz's plate. As Prince Regal continues to sow discord and inhibit the fight against the Red Ships with his greed and lust for his perceived birthright, Fitz finds himself battling for his King on two fronts; against the raiders, and against his own son. But how do you protect a King who would not believe his own son plots against him? How do you protect a Prince who's sense of duty, honour and desperation drives him to make a choice that would effectively lose him his inheritance?

It becomes a never ending battle that in turn forces Fitz to face conflicts between his loyalty to his masters, and his personal interests. What do you do when remaining loyal to your master means watching everything he stands for be destroyed? When remaining loyal means serving a master you could not abide with? And is that loyalty worth giving your life to? Heady questions, questions Fitz battles with all through this novel.

I found this overall a much more intense, absorbing story than Assassin's Apprentice. Which should be expected; Robin Hobb now has the stage set and all that was left was to continue a tale that forces a reader to consider questions of loyalty, truth, love and the brutal choices that face us when these qualities conflict with our interests.

And an amazing tale it is. This is one of the few times I've ever read a story where I had absolutely no clue what could happen next, or where the story is headed. Hobb walks a thin line between the obvious happening, and something coming clean out of left field, a combination that leaves you guessing and even makes you trick yourself at times. At least, that's what it was like for me. Some parts were so obvious that I expected something entirely different to occur, and then when things went as I thought, I found myself shocked. And at other times, events went in entirely opposite directions, proving that in games of intrigue, nothing is certain. A thin line, but one used to cruel efficiency in this novel.

In addition to fleshing out her characters more, Robin Hobb does an excellent job of delving further into the lore, the magic and our understanding in general of the Six Duchies. The world expands around us, not only to encompass events and forces from beyond the Six Duchies, but also to include new players from within them. In direct opposition to how tedious I found the creation of the world in her first book, I enjoyed learning about it in this, as Robin Hobb seamlessly weaves these strands into her ongoing story in so natural a way there wasn't a slight change in pace.

Granted, however, it's not a perfect book. I found it slow mainly in the middle, as Fitz deals with his love life and Regal continues to weave his web of treachery. It's perfectly understandable why this had to be so; the plot is composed of so many bricks, layered one on top of the other in a gradual buildup of tension and intensity that by the end of it the resulting explosion elicits a sigh of relief. But this did not prevent it from being a bit of slow going at the beginning.

Also, I have trouble wrapping my mind around Regal's very existence. There is literally no logical reason that I can think of for King-in-waiting Verity to abide Regal's outright greed and scheming. In any other story Regal's plot line would have ended with a knife in the dark or a funny taste in his food, but that's not the case here. Instead, Verity is so focused on the external threats facing the Six Duchies that he does not see the force sundering them from within. But this is one of those issues that I don't really consider an issue; I quite simply enjoyed the story too much to care.

All in all, an even more captivating, wrenching, emotional trainwreck of a book than its predecessor. As Fitz undergoes some of the most important emotional changes of his life, it was hard not to empathize with the terrible toll it takes on him. And that brings me to the quality I love most in Hobb's books; nothing is separate. We don't see Fitz dealing with personal issues separately, and court problems at other times, as is common in 99.9% of all other fantasy I've read. But rather, a seamless blend of the two, with one often causing the other, or one becoming a major driving force in the other. It truly is an incredibly captivating, nebulous tale that will leave you on the edge of your seat. And don't even bother assuming you know how this is going to end. Because you definitely don't. Do I even need to say it? Extremely recommended.

This review, and many others, can be found over at Drunken Dragon Reviews