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Originally published Friday, August 1, 2014 at 6:05 AM

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“Fool’s Assassin”: a father’s pride, a daughter’s fierce love

Robin Hobbs’ new novel, “Fool’s Assassin,” returns to an epic landscape familiar to her readers, but several inhabitants of Hobbs’ Six Duchies are in for some new challenges. Hobb reads Aug. 4 at Seattle’s University Book Store.


Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

Robin Hobb

The author of “Fool’s Assassin” will appear at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 4, at the University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E. Free (206-634-3400; ubookstore.com).

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Home to sentient ships, malnourished dragons and telepathic kings, the imaginary land called The Six Duchies is the setting of many of Tacoma writer Robin Hobb’s most beloved epic fantasies. In “Fool’s Assassin” (Del Rey, 688 pp., $28), she returns not only to The Six Duchies’ familiar strangeness but to a pair of characters who’ve often held center stage.

Royal bastard and trained killer FitzChivalry Farseer has forsaken his murderous career to live in obscurity under the name Tom Badgerlock. His friend and mentor, variously known as The Fool, The White Prophet and Lord Golden, has gone missing, and FitzChivalry spends much of the book longing for a message from him. When the friends finally reconnect there are shocks in store for both of them — and for the reader.

At almost 700 pages, “Fool’s Assassin” is an easy candidate for the condescending “fat fantasy” label. But though lengthy, the novel never feels padded. Its pages are filled, for the most part, with the sorts of details that make readers believe they’ve entered a whole and consistent world: the odorous weight of a wet, woolen cloak; the creak and rattle of a leather harness; the colorful sparks produced by salts thrown on a festive fire. It’s a book meant to be inhabited rather than run through.

Some of “Fool’s Assassin’s” bulk, however, is due to Hobb filling us in on her characters’ histories. Necessary as it is for newcomers to know how FitzChivalry came to be estranged from his grown child and why he’s adamant about keeping out of court politics, explaining these points and others takes several pages. Still, Hobb accomplishes her explanations skillfully, using self-reflective passages which helpfully reveal her established characters’ personalities.

However, it’s with the introduction of her newest character, tiny Bee Farseer, that the author’s creation truly leaps to vivid, engaging life. Born miraculously to FitzChivalry’s postmenopausal wife, Molly, slow-developing Bee is at first taken for a mindless idiot. Though undersized and mysteriously hesitant to speak, Bee soon proves wise beyond anyone’s expectations.

Chapters from her viewpoint alternate with those narrated by FitzChivalry, giving a child’s perspective on the imbalance of power between parent and child. Time and again, Bee laments her father’s lack of attention and his failure to consider her wishes when making decisions. His careless telepathic broadcasts of his adult emotions overwhelm her emerging psychic sensitivity; her constantly averted eyes and rigid-muscled rejections of his embrace shame and embarrass him — but their fierce mutual love is plain. It’s also essential to the plot, though to say more than that would spoil readers’ enjoyment.

Hobb knows the complicated workings of the wayward human heart, and she takes time to depict them in her tale, to tell her story sweetly, insistently, compellingly. This start of a promising new trilogy will satisfy fans wanting to share further adventures with proud yet vulnerable FitzChivalry and his fellow traveler. “Fool’s Assassin” is also deeply involving for those unfamiliar with this author — involving enough to attract new followers for her sharp-eyed observations on fantastic worlds populated by believable, imperfect people.

Nisi Shawl reviews science fiction and fantasy for The Seattle Times.



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