Today, I am following up on something I did just over a year ago, for yesterday, I read Robin Hobb's most recent novel, Fool's Quest (ISBN 978-0-553-39292-0, US$28 in hardcover). I did so a week after its release, admittedly, so others will have already written and published reviews, but that does not mean I will not add my own, noting that the book is the second in the Fitz and the Fool Trilogy and so a furtherance of the narrative arc begun in 1996 with Assassin's Apprentice. In the text, Fitz experiences the consequences of his failures, not only of the guise of Holder Tom Badgerlock, but also of his older failures from earlier series (the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies); his daughter, Bee, has been taken, and he is not able to recover her, although he does retrieve others who had been assigned to his care. Oddly, however, his secret identity is revealed and he is exalted to the full royal dignity that had long been denied him due to his bastard birth--the "Fitz" with which his name begins is an accurate descriptor--and so removed from his earlier quiet work as a royal assassin. It does not remove him, however, from his desire for vengeance upon those who have wronged him and his, and the book concludes with Fitz en route to those who sent ruin upon him--and with his daughter, alive despite the beliefs and efforts of many, fleeing in an uncertain direction.
I have long expressed my appreciation for Hobb's work, both directly and tacitly in the form of several papers and my master's thesis focusing on her corpus. I will doubtlessly do so again. That does not mean there are not places where I find fault with the novel. The revelation of FitzChivalry Farseer as still alive (despite prevailing belief that he is decades dead) seems out of place, and while it is pushed through by a character whose mental deterioration becomes clear later in the text, it still reads as somehow inauthentic and sudden, out of place with the rest of the narrative. Consequences of that revelation seem somehow subdued; they occur, certainly, but not with the vigor that would be expected (and that the subject of the revelation, to his credit and his author's, does expect).
Even so, I find much to laud in the text. As ever, Fitz's narrative voice is strong and reads well. Bee's narrative voice, which emerges at points in the text, is also handled well, and is far more distinct from Fitz's than is the narrative voice of the Soldier Son trilogy. The welcome introduction of chapters with "outside" materials, present in earlier volumes of the work, continues, helping to orient the reader in broader understanding of the milieu. And the work does explore some of the implications of its milieu's features, as fantasy and science fiction do not do often enough. The growth and spread of dragons has consequences, and those consequences are made far more visible in Fool's Quest than in many other works. Too, the presence of an organized, generational group of prophets has terrible overtones, and those are explored, at least to some degree, in the novel. The line of reasoning Hobb explicates through The Fool is one that makes sense, corresponding with likely actions in the readers' world if there were to be such a thing as Clerres in it, making the impending confrontation in the third volume of the work--still yet to come--all the more ominous. Hopefully, Hobb will continue her practice of relatively rapid writing, not leaving her readers in the situation of Martin's; the third volume of Fitz and the Fool promises to be quite the read.