Sunday, January 13, 2002

Review: "Fool's Errand" by Robin Hobb

Robin Hobb is one of the best writers to emerge in the fantasy genre in the past decade, and her Farseer Trilogy is among the best series I've ever read. So I was both excited and a little apprehensive to find that she was returning to the tale of FitzChivalry Farseer and his wolf Nighteyes in her newest novel, "Fool's Errand" (Bantam Spectra).

On one hand, I was thrilled at the prospect of visiting with some old friends and finding out what happened after the events of "Assassin's Quest," the final book of the Farseer Trilogy. On the other hand, I'm weary of writers who continue to pump out books about characters to capitalize on their popularity long after their story has been told.

Happily, Hobb avoids that trap. She brings her readers back into the lives of Fitz and Nighteyes as another compelling story is unfolding around them.

FitzChivalry, the illegitimate son of Prince Chivalry and former royal assassin to King Shrewd, is believed dead by most of the people who knew him in his time at Buckkeep castle. Fitz, approaching middle age, has lived quietly with Nighteyes and his adopted son Hap in his forest cabin under the assumed name of Tom Badgerlock. But a few visitors are about to shatter that peace.

First, his former mentor Chade Fallstar visits to try to persuade Fitz to teach the Skill magic to Prince Dutiful, the heir to the throne of the Six Duchies. Then the Fool, now known as Lord Golden at court, comes to seek his assistance in finding the prince, who has gone missing. Despite his best efforts, Fitz's old friends are able to draw him back into a semblance of his former life.

But things are more complicated than a simple search for a lost prince. Sentiment against the Wit magic - the ability to communicate with animals - is running high. Those with the Old Blood are being brutally executed by angry mobs all over the Six Duchies. What's worse, Fitz suspects that Dutiful has the Wit and has been kidnapped by someone who intends to use that against the Farseer line.

As usual, Hobb is outstanding as she weaves a compelling tale of intrigue, prejudice and loyalty. Hobb excels at making her fantasy believable. Hers is not an ideal world where everything is black and white. There's no pure good or evil. Most of the choices her characters face are tough ones, with no truly right and wrong answers. It's also a world where things don't necessarily end happily, as fans of the first tales of FitzChivalry and Nighteyes can attest.

Hobb's fans won't be disappointed with this latest installment. "Fool's Errand" lives up to the legacy of the Farseer Trilogy. For those who haven't read Hobb, the book offers a good opportunity to get acquainted. If you like a good fantasy tale, "Fool's Errand" is tough to beat.

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