Great Fantasy Books: Assassin’s Fate by Robin Hobb Reviewed

Cover to Assassin's Fate by Robin Hobb

We’ve all taken something too far. You joke around with a friend, go too far and now the joke’s not funny. You add too much garnish to a dish and now you’ve spoilt the balance of flavours. And writers keep writing and inadvertently ruin the story. We’ve all seen it happen. Star Wars prequel trilogy, anyone? And, unfortunately, I think Robin Hobb might have done the same. I think she took the Fitz books too far when she wrote Assassin’s Fate.

“Who had that young man been who had thought himself so old and worldly-wise? He was a stranger to me now.”

In order to explain myself, I need to (briefly!) lay out the history of Fitz books. The story of FitzChivalry Farseer (Fitz) began in the ‘Farseer’ trilogy. Fitz is the bastard son of a disgraced prince and assassin for the royal family, who forms a psychic bond with a wolf, Nighteyes, and befriends the king’s Fool, a prophet who wants Fitz to help end the Red Ship War. The ‘Farseer’ trilogy culminates in a definite, albeit bittersweet, ending for Fitz.

The ‘Tawny Man’ trilogy sees Fitz return to the intrigues of court to help secure peace between two warring kingdoms, and embark on a quest to bring dragons back to the world. The Tawny Man trilogy culminates in a definite, sweeter ending for Fitz.

The ‘Fitz and the Fool’ trilogy, of which Assassin’s Fate is the third book, sees Fitz’s sweeter ending spoiled by a nation of prophets who kidnap his daughter, and force Fitz to travel across the world in his efforts to bring her home. And it’s the ending of this trilogy, which Hobb has said is the final and ultimate ending for Fitz, that rubs me up the wrong way.

“But you don’t know what will happen.”
“No. That is our curse. To know that something will happen, and only after it is over, to look back and say, ‘Oh, that is what that meant. If only I’d known.’ It can break your heart.”

On paper, the ending of Assassin’s Fate works. It fits in with the world Hobb has created, linking into lore that was set up in the first trilogy that should have foreshadowed Fitz’s eventual fate but never did. It’s somewhat open-ended, enabling fans to imagine what might happen after ‘The End’. And it ties in with Fitz’s relationships with Nighteyes and the Fool, two characters that are hugely important both to the character and to readers.

But what works on paper doesn’t always work for the heart. Assassin’s Fate‘s path to this ending feels contrived, as if Hobb thought it up first and then tried to twist the narrative to make it fit. It also doesn’t gel with Fitz’s quest to save his daughter, so it feels deeply dissatisfying. Finally, I had the sense that it was supposed to be a happy ending, or a bittersweet one at best. But Fitz’s fate isn’t one you would wish upon a character you’ve followed for nine books.

Ultimately, Hobb took an ending I was happy with, undid it, and replaced it with what, for me, feels like the worst ending Fitz has endured.

I felt a strange sort of peace. As if all the parts of me were finally in one place.

I feel it’s important to note that reading Assassin’s Fate was still a pleasurable experience, which is all to do with the way Hobb writes. Her writing is gorgeous, rich, emotive, and lush. Sometimes overly descriptive, but that’s a fault in many fantasy novels, so she’s hardly the first to spend a little too long describing food, clothing, or locales. Fitz is also very lovable and, in Assassin’s Fate, he is as noble, earnest, dour, selfless, selfish, fierce and foolish as ever.

I admit that at times I became impatient. Hobb has also written two other series set in the same world, the ‘Liveship’ trilogy and the ‘Rain Wilds’ series, and Assassin’s Fate attempts to be a sequel and a coda for those books too. As I never warmed to those books, my experience of Assassin’s Fate suffered when Hobb spent too long on these other storylines.

Nevertheless, her prose is as beautiful as always and, even when I was less interested in the story of a character I neither knew nor really cared about, it was still easy to enjoy her writing.

But a delicious meal can be ruined by finding a hair in the last mouthful.

“Never do a thing until you consider well what you can’t do once you’ve done it.”

A sequel has many jobs to do, but the most important one it has to fulfill is validating its own existence. Once the reader has been given “The End”, there needs to be a good reason to amend that to “The End, but also…” If it fails to do so, it intrudes upon your experience of what came before. For instance, your memory of whiny brat Anakin Skywalker intrudes upon your your experience of Darth Vader.

The ending of Assassin’s Fate intrudes upon the earlier books. No matter how much I try to put it from my mind, to live in the moment, as Nighteyes might suggest, I can never fully forget what lies in wait for Fitz at the end of his journey. I cannot unread that ending, unremember it, or undo it.

I know many people will enjoy the ending to Assassin’s Fate. I don’t hate Robin Hobb for writing Assassin’s Fate, I’m not writhing in righteous anger at what she did, and I won’t rage at anyone who enjoys the ending that left me cold. It’s an entirely subjective matter. But, for me, Assassin’s Fate, and indeed the whole trilogy, serves as a perfect example of leaving well enough alone.

Because while it might be tempting to write another sequel, it’s all too easy to spoil what you already made.

If I haven’t put you off, you can get a copy of Assassin’s Fate here.

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