Saturday, December 5, 2015

Royal Assassin Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Robin Hobb
Publisher: Bantam
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: Farseer Trilogy Book Two
Pages: 675

Buy on Amazon!

(Contains spoilers for Assassin’s Apprentice)

After the brilliant opening to the Farseer Trilogy the bar is set high, and for the most part Robin Hobb delivers an excellent sequel, but there is a major annoying issue that inflicts the major characters.  That issue is loyalty.  Loyalty to the point of stupidity.

Royal Assassin requires a greater suspension of disbelief than its predecessor because of this issue, and the result is a sequel that’s noticeably weaker than the original.  Nevertheless everything else about Royal Assassin is top notch: great characters (especially some new ones), immersed world building, and an ending that compares in significance to the resolution of Eddard Stark’s storyline from A Game of Thrones.

After surviving his first assassination attempt, FitzChivalry is left in a crippled state where he frequently suffers seizures.  Still staying in the Mountain Kingdom, Fitz has to decide whether or not he wants to return to the Farseer family.

Meanwhile, the Red-Ship raiders continue to grow bolder with their attacks on the Six Duchies.  Regal continues to plot his rise to power, while Verity and Kettricken try to find a way to save the kingdom.

Loyalty to the king in Royal Assassin knows no bounds. Everyone of the major protagonists is unwaveringly loyal to Shrewd, and as a result they do almost nothing to actively try and stop the deceptive and power hungry Regal.  It’s this aspect that’s most frustrating about Royal Assassin, and it’s a pretty big part of the plot to be frustrated with.  The major protagonists – Kettricken, Verity, Burrich, Fitz, and Chade’s – acquiescence to Shrewd’s demand that they leave Regal alone makes them all look stupid, despite the fact that the reader knows they’re all educated and have proven themselves to be intelligent in the previous book.

Robin Hobb does this to the point where only two things could redeem the ridiculousness of her characters loyalty: one a plausible explanation for this mass stupidity (they were being skill manipulated might have worked), or two these characters will pay dearly for their lack of action.  There are issues with skill manipulation throughout the book, but they never explain why the characters do next to nothing to stop Regal.  The major protagonists do suffer though because they don’t combat Regal, and as a result I feel a bit more forgiving about Hobb’s protagonists’ loyalty issues.

The lack of action taken by the protagonists also makes them look reactive instead of proactive.  They don’t preemptively try to slow Regal down whereas, Regal on the other hand, is incredibly proactive. As much as I hate him, I have to admit I have some respect for him.  He works to get what he wants, and this is a big reason as to why Regal is one of my favorite fantasy antagonists.  He reminds me of Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of Commodus in Gladiator (yes I know Gladiator was filmed after the Farseer Trilogy). His sniveling disdain for people’s suffering, his unchecked ambition, and his sheltered life make him easy to hate and can quickly rile anyone’s emotions.

The new character, Nighteyes was a great addition to the story.  He sees the world with a remarkable simplicity that contradicts the growing moral dilemmas that face Fitz.  With the exception of the loyalty issues, Kettricken and Verity also get developed a lot more in this book.  The Six Duchies have established roles for women that echo our own real world’s cultural values for women.  Kettricken is the character that opposes the negative aspects of these pre-established roles for women, and her rebellious nature makes her very likeable.

Robin Hobb is surprising with her brutality.  You can go hundreds of pages with characters only receiving bumps and bruises, and then all of the sudden you get to a scene where a young toddler is literally ripped into pieces while still alive.  Scenes like these are shocking, and their sparsity makes them even more appalling when they happen – you just aren’t expecting it – but I appreciate an author that doesn’t ignore the realities of a brutal world.

Royal Assassin is beautifully written and everything about this story – characters, plot, prose, and setting – is engaging.  While one glaring flaw requires a great suspension of disbelief the rest of the book should be satisfying.

Score: 8.7

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