Sunday, April 3, 2011

Review: Fool's Errand

Author: Robin Hobb
Genre: High Fantasy
Pages: 662
Warnings: Acts of torture are mentioned
Rating: 3/5
Series: 1/3 of The Tawny Man

Before I comment on the quality of "Fool's Errand", there is a rant that I have to get out about series in general. For reasons I cannot fathom, every time a new book in a series comes out, the first quarter of it is devoted to recap. Who is this recap for? Not the loyal fans, who if they have free time have already re-read the entire series so the knowledge is fresh in their minds, and if they don't will remember it as they go. I can almost, almost imagine the author is recapping for the first-time reader of the series, but so often I get to hear about crap that doesn't matter to someone who just picked up the book. It's such a waste! It makes me a little crazy, because it's such a common narrative choice.

"Fool's Errand" is more guilty of this than most book's I've read, but in Robin Hobb's defense there is significant action which takes place well before the book starts. This book is actually the seventh book in this universe, following two other trilogies. While it does help the reader to know who is friends with who, and why their bond is so close, I could have lived with a book that felt like it was jumping into the middle of a story. There's nothing wrong with a detailed history that the reader doesn't know about. It creates a sense of mystery, which is something high fantasy books don't have a lot of.

I should warn you that I haven't read the Farseer Trilogy or the Liveship Trader's Trilogy, so the first 200 pages or so of this book were a complete surprise for me. I think those pages would have dragged much, much more if I had known any of the things that were being recapped. I don't know a lot of the details even now, and that's okay for me. It's a better motivation to go back and read the first six books. I would strongly suggest you try reading from the end at least once.

Anyway, on to the actual novel. "Fool's Errand" is the (continuing) saga of FitzChivalry Farseer. From what I estimate, the book picks up 15 years after the previous trilogy. Fitz has been living a simple life raising Mishap, his adopted son. Nigheyes, his awesome wolf companion, has grown old and Mishap is ready to make his own way in the world. While Fitz is slowly coming to the realization that his life must change, Dutiful, his royal son, vanishes. It takes a lot of convincing from all of his old friends (and lots of oh-so-subtle references to the previous two series) to get Fitz moving. Eventually he rescues his son and saves the day, but I figure you should read the book to find out how.

I feel like the action in this book isn't very smooth, but it works out well enough. The first third of the book involves lots of talking and place-setting, which makes the character's interplay during times of high stress much more believable. The other two thirds of the book are lots of travelling interspersed with some fight scenes. It played out nicely, because constant action or constant talking gets boring.

As usual the most fascinating part of this book for me was the characterization. Fitz, the main character, is difficult to like and to get along with, but since the story is first person, it's hard to tell that he's scary. There's a disconnect between how Fitz sees most of his actions (and therefore how the reader views them) and how others interpret his behavior, and Robin Hobb does an excellent job of highlighting this. At one point his companion runs away from him in the middle of the night. In addition, Fitz's has many secrets, and no single character knows all of them. It's wonderful to see an author that can write such a complicated set of characters well.

Nighteyes and Fitz's friendship was lovely for me. As far as magic systems go, the Wit is one of my favorites. In terms of story-telling, the lack of barriers between Nighteyes and Fitz is a counter-point to the levels of secrets between Fitz and everyone else. As odd as it is to see characters keep things from each other for longer than a book, it's odder to see two characters who are essentially soul-mates.

So, typical fantasy fare. I think the main attraction to me was that I started at the end, and don't know how Fitz got his scars, or became friends with Fool among other things. Unlike most fantasy stories, characters were able to keep really valuable information from each other, and I spent part of the book holding my breath, waiting for someone to slip up. Otherwise, the characters carried an acceptable but hardly original story. 

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