Nostalgia is a funny thing. It can color our interpretation of things and is often difficult to divorce oneself from. Such is the case with Robin Hobb’s latest series opener Fool’s Assassin. Focusing on the retired life of FitzChivalry Farseer, now Tom Badgerlock, it shows him dealing with a primarily sedentary life. He watches his wife age past him, his own aging slowed by the magic healing that saved his life, and finds himself suddenly beset by unexpected child late in life. The story plays very much like a bildungsroman except instead of a youth maturing into adulthood it is an older man learning how to be a father.
Fool’s Assassin is a slow moving novel that takes its time in getting the plot started. On the one hand the sedate pace is in keeping with the Fitz readers know. Introspective to the point of being borderline self-centered Fitz can brood with the best of them. He broods over the Fool’s long absence, he broods over his wife’s aging and eventual death, he broods over the distance between himself and his first daughter Nettle, and he broods over his strange new daughter who cries at his touch and who doesn’t seem to grow at a normal rate. Without the full weight of Nighteye’s presence, the wolf is around in spirit, Fitz is entirely incapable of living in the moment. He spends his days and hours drowning himself in the past and making token efforts towards the present only to retreat back into himself at the first opportunity.
Secrets at are at the heart of Fool’s Assassin. It is the many fictions kept close by its characters that cause so many problems. No one tells each other anything and the constant need, or at least perceived need, for secrecy impedes progress both in terms of our characters’ growth and the novel’s minimal plot. Perhaps my biggest problem is Fitz’s seeming willful ignorance his daughter. FitzChivalry Farseer, strong in both the Wit and the Skill, never once wonders why his daughter cringes at his touch. Never once speaks to his daughter about either. It just doesn’t really make any sense to me. Clever wordplay in certain instances help to blind Fitz with regards to some important facts but the absolute reliance on first-person narration (even after the addition of a second first-person point-of-view) makes Fitz’s blindness even more glaring. It is strange to think that Fitz’s self-centered naval gazing can be so equal parts endearing and frustrating.
Despite that I constantly found myself frustrated with Fitz I loved every moment of Fool’s Assassin. Fitz’ first person narration has carried me through six previous novels and coming back into Fitz’s head once again feels a bit like a homecoming. As a result, the novel’s day-in-the-life structure isn’t bothersome to me in the least. However, I’m willing to bet that without that same familiarity Fool’s Assassin is going to be nigh on impenetrable for new readers. Fitz feels like an old friend and while Fool’s Assassin has little in the way of action the slow ease back into Fitz’s life felt good. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing where the Fitz and the Fool series takes readers next.