A scar is never the same as good flesh, but it stops the bleeding – Robin Hobb.
The third and final instalment of Fitz’s journey has come to an end; it was one that, unconsciously, I didn’t want to finish as I have – over the past six months – become invested in his story and of those in the Six Duchies. I know that his story does continue again in a future trilogy (Robin Hobb is a writing machine) but, to me, his story as the Catalyst is very much over. When I finally finished the last page, a flurry of mixed emotions flew over me: exhilaration, sadness, disappointment, slight closure, relief, elation. These were for all different reasons.
The story picks up just a few moments after Royal Assassin ends. Without giving too much away, Fitz is very disoriented in his old body; he is acting strangely, almost animal like in his ways as he attempts to adjust to the human race once more. Burrich is his minder, as he always has been ever since Fitz was a young boy. Burrich is just as bad-tempered and impatient as his days in the keep, but this time there’s a lack of brandy available which means he is grouchier than Grumpy from the seven dwarfs. Chade comes and goes, like a hunted ghost in the night. The legend of the Pocked Man, and his scarred skin, are stories to scare the towns’ children with, and the description of a wanted man for King Regal’s prison. Nighteyes, however, is the light and soul of the first few chapters, giving Fitz a slice of happiness in his otherwise forsaken life.
Despite growing in the previous two books, Fitz has never learned how to become a man. Previously, he has always acted as a boy, despite knowing things that only a man could know: secrets and lies, the ways of poisons and beasts. He is hot-headed and selfish, always thinking what is best for himself in every situation, alongside serving his true king well. Now, he is left on his own to survive: to do what he thinks is best rather than what is expected of him. He knows he must go to his King Verity – a Skill-entwined heart does not let him escape that – but he puts his selfishness first once more in order to exact revenge on the man who killed him.
New characters enter Fitz’s life as his old friends leave him; these are full of life in many ways. Starling, the minstrel, is a woman who’s wish is to write an incredible song that will last beyond her years, being sung in both castle walls and taverns alike. She is intuitive, boisterous and always puts her nose where it’s not wanted. Kettle, on the other hand, is an old, withered woman who keeps herself to herself; she won’t answer any of Fitz’s questions, no matter how much he demands it. She is strong and resourceful, always picking up the rear of the tracks, always giving orders and advice, keeping Fitz’s wits about him. Both are crucial to not only Fitz’s story, but that of the entire Six Duchies.
Kettricken returns to the story, alongside the Fool who is now named the White Prophet. Both believed that Fitz was dead, and are shocked and angry to find him living still. Lies fuel this newfound anger and stress from Kettricken whilst she remains as loyal a queen to the Six Duchies and her beloved husband who she believes dead.
A journey deep into the north of the Mountain Kingdom takes up the latter third of the novel, one of which I’m unsure whether it should have been longer or shorter. Perhaps I found it too quickened as that is how I read it – with a faster pace. They find hardships as mundane as finding game and keeping the snowy cold at bay, alongside the magic of the Skill tugging at Fitz as he attempts to keep his mind walled and locked against the enemies that strive to thwart him and his true King. There is more danger the deeper they travel, and it takes all of their strength to keep each other sane. A huge companion to all of them is Witted Nighteyes who stalks and slays food for them as well as gives them a companionable comfort each and every day.
Like I said in the introduction, the ending gave me a flummox of feelings. In the end, the Six Duchies are saved. The Catalyst did just as was prophesised, but he gains nothing from it heroically. He retreats to his lonely cottage but his happiness is something that he thrives on, not having to worry about the state of the kingdom or those of his past. It is what he always wanted, in some ways. In others, he will have to just make do because life isn’t always perfect and what we want it to be, even for someone as important as the Catalyst.
Assassin’s Quest is full of turmoil both of the heart and of the mind as well as a game of good against evil. However, when you’re reading it you will wonder sometimes why Regal is evil, why he does what he does and whether it is an evil Prince who makes these decisions or a boy who is simply jealous of all that his older brothers had to offer to the world. Fitz and Verity have their own demons which threaten to take over the minds, reckoning them with a darkness so bleak there is no return. You will learn of what happens in Fitz’s love life, how his friends become the most loyal beings and the best of all, his omnipresent connection with an old wolf who would die at his feet if it meant saving him.
Have you read any of The Farseer Trilogy? This perhaps wasn’t my favourite of the three, but I understand why it has been written the way it has. Fate is a funny old thing.
Love, Faye xo