A Fool for Love
Author: Robin Hobb
It seems it is my fate to forever humiliate myself on the bus by carrying around Robin Hobb’s paperback novels, festooned with embarrassingly cheesy cover art. Thankfully, the Tawny Man trilogy (of which Fool’s Errand is the first volume) isn’t as bad as some of the others I’ve had to lug around, but it’s bad enough. Skulking wolf? Check. Stern-looking men in puffy shirts on horseback? Check. Village street with Tudor buildings and cobbled road? Check and check. If these books weren’t so addictive, the shame of holding them in public just wouldn’t be worth it.
This trilogy is the sequel to the Farseer Trilogy, which introduced readers to the complicated machinations of the Kingdom of the Six Duchies, and the backstabbing political intrigue of the royal Farseer dynasty and its court. That first series followed the story of FitzChivalry Farseer, the bastard son of the royal heir Prince Chivalry, and his progress from anonymous foundling to ward to royal assassin and poisoner, under the tutelage of the shadowy recluse known as Chade. We also learned that there are two kinds of magic in this world: Skill, a form of telepathy and mind control associated most strongly with the royal line, and the Wit, a much-despised animal magic that allows its users to bond with animals and share their thoughts and traits.
As this installment begins, Fitz has retired to almost hermitlike seclusion, accompanied only by his faithful wolf companion Nighteyes, and the orphan Hap, a victim of the wars that riddled the first trilogy. For fifteen years, Fitz has lived a humble life, far away from court and everyone he knows – most of whom believe him dead. But fate comes for Fitz in the form of his old friend, the Fool, who reluctantly drags him back into Six Duchies intrigue with a mission of great importance: the royal heir, Prince Dutiful, who also happens to be Fitz’s biological son (long story), has vanished from the castle, just days before he is to be presented and betrothed to his foreign bride, a match that will secure an alliance with their former enemies of war. Once again, Fitz and the Fool (now disguised as the aristocratic and charming Lord Golden) are off on a secret mission of grave importance, not just for the security of the kingdom and its uneasy political alliances, but for the future of their entire world.
Like the previous books, Fool’s Errand is set in a complex and richly imagined world, full of magic and enchantment as well as ordinary human emotions and schemes. I’ve been reading these trilogies in rapid succession, but I imagine this would be difficult to get into if you hadn’t already read the Farseer Trilogy; there’s a lot of summarized backstory in the first chapters, but it seems intended more to refresh the memory of a reader who has read the previous trilogy than to introduce an entirely new reader. You might still enjoy the book without having read the earlier ones, but you’d definitely be missing out on a lot of deeper levels and nuances in how the characters relate and why they act the way they do.
Fitz is now older, battered by life, and weary of heart from the many disappointments life has dealt him, so the tone of this book is appropriately more subdued; the cute hijinks and comic relief are much more toned down now. If you have been following along (by chance, I happened to read the Farseer, Liveship, and now Tawny Man trilogies in the correct chronological sequence), it’s interesting to follow the progress of these characters’ intertwined lives as they move throughout the Six Duchies world. The pace goes a little too slow, though, especially during the drawn-out showdown at the end, when you know more or less how it has to end and are impatiently trying to get there sooner than the author wants to.
I’m sort of glad that I discovered this author so late, because there are so many completed trilogies already waiting for me, unlike certain other long-delayed fantasy series I could mention. Despite the pacing issues and the relative inaccessibility for new readers, I’m invested enough in these characters that I want to follow them through to the end – however long it may take to get there.
— S. Perry