I finished the last book in the Realm of the Elderling’s a little while ago, and am still in that dazed aura a good book leaves you in. Luckily for me however, the angel of my better brain is working her way through Fool’s Quest, meaning I get to keep one foot in that world as I ask her “which bit are you up to” at annoying intervals.
I’m sure you know, but Assassin’s Fate is the final instalment of a sixteen-book epic [thankfully split into four trilogies and one quartet, with multiple storylines and protagonists] that began way back when in 1995, charting the trials and challenges of the bastard child to a royal line, secreted away to become the court assassin. We follow the boy FitzChivalry Farseer as he grows up, as he discovers his own outcast magic, as he loves and loses, comes this close to sitting on the royal seat himself, and as he is thrown time and again under the wheel of fate.
I love this series for many reasons – not only for the characters (Nighteyes! Smithy!) but also because Robin Hobb/Megan Lindholm manages to create heart-rending moments of sacrifice and challenge for just about everyone. They say that you have to be mean to your protagonists. Get ’em up a tree, and then throw stones at them until they do something amazing. Well, in this case FitzChivalry (as well as Althea, Brashen, the Fool, Bee…) fit that bill.
First of her Name
I think a lot of kudos should be given to the author for being the first to lay out the field, and then push her characters through it and beyond to new territories. There are loads of Dark Fantasy books now, and literally quadrabillions about assassins, and the whole “orphan thief with strange magic saves the world” is so repeated as to be a trope. But most of those other books are borrowing from the life of Fitz here.
The stand out feature of course, is that The Realm of the Elderlings has character development done really well. It’s not just ‘boy learns to master his demons’ because the author knows that the thing about demons is… They are self-created. Fitz changes as a character throughout, but he is also deeply affected by what he’s put through (Regal’s Dungeon, not to say the least…) and this reverberates through the books. I was really pleased in Assassin’s Fate that we see the contrast between Fitz and the newer characters. He is literally a guy from a different time, and even though he struggles to do his best, in the words of Chade Fallstar “No one knows what we are capable of…”
In that sense, there is a current of epic tragedy that runs through the series and the last book as well. Not handled in a morose or heavy sense – but one which adds gritty emotional intensity to the lives of the characters. You can’t throw a child into fight after fight and not expect them to be effected by that, right? The moments of grace and salvation, if only brief (Kettricken, Fitz and the Fool) are like honey in bitter tea.
The last volume is weighty. Some seven-eight hundred pages in my edition, with some gorgeous cover art by Jackie Morris [whose dogs, as it happens, I once met in Wales]. I’ve been getting the First Ed. Hardcovers for all of this last trilogy because, ah…you have to, right?
What is really pleasing about the plot (no spoilers!) is that it didn’t end where I thought it was going to end, nor how. Some eventual fates became clearer as the book goes on, providing a really nice echoing with the end of other Fitz trilogies.
And as ever, Fitz remains a total spoon when it comes to some things XD
I won’t give star ratings because that seems a bit churlish for a series that has been going on for over twenty years. Instead I will say this: These books are amazing. There are moments and characters and phrases that have stayed with me right from book one Assassin’s Apprentice, which I think are still damn fine pieces of advice for life today:
“There ‘ain’t much wrong that can’t be fixed by looking after something else.”
– Stablemaster Burrich, nursing a broken-hearted teenaged Fitz
But are the Realms over now? I think in all honesty it probably is – but I’m glad for the journey I’ve taken with these characters. That being said, there is an air of possibility left in the final pages, especially when you consider what the new characters have gone through, and what they might do in a world of dragons…