Book Review: Robin Hobb’s Royal Assassin

Posted January 28, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Robin Hobb’s Royal Assassin

Royal Assassin


by

Robin Hobb


It is part of the , series and is a fantasy that was published by Voyager on November 5, 2002 and has 675 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.
three-half-stars

Other books by this author which I have reviewed include Assassin's Apprentice

Second in the Farseer Trilogy fantasy series that is part of the overall Realms of the Elderlings series and revolving around Fitz, the bastard assassin son of a dead prince.

My Take

It’s an interesting mash of great ideas and total boners as Fitz tries to navigate the dangerous shoals of Buckkeep castle and his half-brother Regal. Fitz is so young, honest, and caring, and it’s mixed with the assassin skills and political maneuverings needed to stay alive and keep the kingdom and its rulers safe. Kettricken, too, has her work cut out for her as she tries to find a place within the castle and win the hearts of its people.

As I go over my notes, it starts much as the other two stories I’ve read in this series with Fitz writing in his journal, and this beginning is a foretelling of what the younger Fitz learns by the end of Royal Assassin as well as a summing up of events in Assassin’s Apprentice, 1. Having started this series at the wrong end, Royal Assassin goes on to fill in some huge holes from Fool’s Assassin, 7 (1st in the Fitz and the Fool trilogy) with what happens between Molly and Fitz, Burrich and Patience, Kings Shrewd and Verity, Kettricken, and Fitz’s death by Regal.

“History is what we do in our lives. We create it as we go along. … The future is another kind of history.”

And, as fascinating as it was to fill these gaps, Royal Assassin is quite depressing what with Patience’s counseling on Fitz’s love for Molly and Shrewd and Verity’s tolerance of Regal. Part of me wondered why Chade or the Fool didn’t simply remove Regal, but then it would have shortened this story up and saved the kingdom too easily. I suspect Chivalry would still have been alive if Regal had been out of the equation.

I must confess that I had a difficult time reading this because of how dumb everyone was. There are so many people who can see how the king is being mistreated and yet they don’t talk to each other. They’re like islands in this, and god forbid those shores should touch. They should have been questioning what’s gone wrong with the communications. I mean, it is so obvious that Regal must be interfering and yet no one looks into this. I don’t understand how Verity can be so ignorant of Regal and his motivations, his actions. He Skills to see what his people are doing, why doesn’t he Skill to keep an eye on Regal? Why didn’t they vet the staff around the key characters? When we first learn how Wallace is mistreating the king, why isn’t he called on this? It’s pretty damn obvious he’s neglecting the king. Who has been in charge of cleaning the king’s rooms previously? I can’t imagine that his personal man did the cleaning or changed out the sheets. Where have they been?

They talk of Kettricken being a born queen, and yet they do so little to encourage her to gather up the reins when Verity sets out on his quest. Why don’t they have some sort of rite to endow Kettricken with authority while Verity is gone? Doesn’t Kettricken have some way of keeping in touch with her father? If Verity can Skill to Shrewd, why don’t they conspire together to set Regal aside from the decision making? If Regal says the treasury is so bare and they must conserve coin, how is the king so unaware of Regal’s expensive banquets. How come no one ever calls him on that? There are all these instances in which they know Regal is doing mischief, to be nice about it, but they have no proof, and yet they don’t look for any proof either. They don’t plan to accumulate any. Part of me feels as if they’re all just asking to be offed.

I do not understand how Molly (or Patience) could possibly see Fitz as having left her or lied to her! With all the rumors running throughout the town and palace, they have to have heard what happened to Fitz in the Mountain Kingdom. I do wish these women would make up their minds and get on the same page. What husband does Molly know who devotes all his time to her that she can make these demands of Fitz? And how can she be so dim as to not see Regal for what he is? Why wouldn’t Patience have warned her? Or Lacey? For that matter, why doesn’t Fitz tell Molly what Verity has promised about their wedding? It’s another lack of communication between Molly and Fitz with both too proud at all the wrong times. As for that comment Hobb makes,”what would Molly and Fitz have?” Well, if Molly and Fitz went off together now as Molly asks, they’d be together and would have so much more than what Burrich now has. Duh.

What is with that king!? There is so much evidence that Regal is a vicious, lying little bastard, and I know he’s Shrewd’s son, but Shrewd is also the king. He doesn’t get the luxury of indulging this megalomaniac. Nor do I understand why he doesn’t better protect himself. I know he’s getting drugged, but he does have his lucid moments. Wallace is so obviously not competent and in league with Regal, so why isn’t he replaced? Verity certainly has the Skill to determine if the replacement is loyal to the king or not.

I don’t understand why Chade took so long to enlighten Fitz or why he was so stupid about Regal(!), nor why Fitz isn’t lurking about the people more. I got the impression from the story that Fitz is drifting along on his own most of the time, and I suspect he’d have been better served if he’d spent more time thinking about cause-and-effect, about motivations, instead of whining about Molly. It takes Fitz much, much too long to figure out the truth behind Regal’s actions. Of course, Fitz is young in years and experience.

How can Verity have lived as long as he has (and at Court) and have no clue about women?

If all these so-called allies within the castle would simply sit down with each other, they could have cleared a lot of this up. Stayed a lot of suffering. Yeah, yeah, I know, it would’ve shortened the story. Or made the author work harder to make it more realistic instead of sliding through this and relying upon the reader to be too emotional to notice the lame bits. Unfortunately, either Hobb didn’t write well enough to make what she did write very realistic or she was in too much of a hurry to worry about it. There are such glaring shortcomings. And I really wanted to love this installment.

What’s with the bit about the emerald necklace? When Fitz is looking for it, I got the impression that Regal had gotten to it, then I found out that Fitz did find it much later on in the story. What’s with using Inland Duchy soldiers to guard Buckkeep prisoners OR its king? Where the heck are the Buckkeep guards?? Why does no one say anything?

We also learn that Burrich has some Wit ability, and yet he still rains censure down on Fitz. Why doesn’t Fitz ever call him on this? Try to find out more about why Burrich is so anti-Wit. Well, besides that whole anathema thing.

Hobb sets up the circumstances that could lead to Fitz’s dalliance with Kettricken but doesn’t do much with it. It’s like a thread that got tucked behind something and forgotten, right along with the watchman who was knifed in the back. There’s also Kettricken’s Will-questing that goes nowhere.

The Fool has an interesting premise about “premonitions and foreseeings of an entire race … written down, and cross-referenced and related to one another, might not such a people create a loom to hold the weaving of the future? … If such a loom were made, and such a tapestry of predictions woven, not for a few years, but for tens of hundreds of years, after a time it could be shown that it presented a surprisingly accurate foretelling.”

On a positive note, it’s a time of change for Fitz. In the Mountain Kingdom he learned respect. A stance and confidence he must hide in Buckkeep where Regal will try again and again to remove him.

Hobb does have some beautiful insights into what it means to rule, to be a friend, the sticky twists of politics.

Damn, I loved it when Verity explained to Fitz how Regal would become more involved in running the kingdom and eagerly waited to see the fallout. There were disasters, but not the ones I had hoped for. It’s even worse at the very end when Fitz discovers why King Shrewd has truly been failing.

“The most distinctive part of your fighting style is the incredible way you have of surviving it.”

Hobb’s grants Fitz insights into the different characters throughout the story, moments of enlightenment which cross-reference his own experiences and help him understand different points-of-view. Learning experiences.

Oh, it’s so sweet when the Queen’s guard forms up. Their reasons for “switching” sides. It’s also a conundrum and shows how stupid people can be in general. How is it possible for the town, the nobles, and the servants to believe Regal’s “largesse” and his words when it’s so obvious what he’s doing. He is not a subtle man. He practically takes out an electronic billboard to announce what he’s up to. As for Kettricken’s bravery and her loyalty, how can they not see what a treasure she is? She’s been out front with going after the Forged (and how she respected those poor things!) and doing battle when Regal can’t be bothered. How can they avoid seeing such visible efforts???

Lol, so much for the ax being for the common man! Go, duke!

It seemed a brilliant plan until Chade explained why it had been a bad idea. He should have made himself more available…

I did enjoy this response of Fitz’s to Burrich’s question:

“How long can you share minds with one who scratches and licks himself, who will roll in carrion, who goes mad when a female is in season, who thinks no further than his next meal, before you accept his values as your own? Then what will you be?’

‘A guardsman?’ I hazarded.”

The Story

Fitz is finally well enough, well, impatient enough, that he insists on he, Burrich, and Hands setting out to ride home for Buckkeep from the Mountain Kingdom.

The Six Duchies under threat from the Outislanders who are raiding their shores and turning its population into the dead, or worse, the Forged. It’s a fate no sane person wants for his or her family, and mothers, fathers, willingly slit their children’s throats, their own, to keep from being Forged.

Meanwhile, the lonely Kettricken becomes a task set by Chade for Fitz, and Nighteyes is Fitz’s dirty little secret he must hide.

The Characters

FitzChivalry Farseer, a.k.a., Changer, is the bastard son of Prince Chivalry, the then-king-in-waiting, and now he is the King’s Man in spite of having had his Skill burned out by the traitorous Galen. Sooty is Fitz’s horse. Nighteyes is the wolf cub Fitz saves at the market, and who teaches Fitz the meaning of loyalty. Chivalry later married Lady Patience whose parents were Lord Oakdell and Lady Averia of very minor nobility. Lacey is Patience’s ace-in-the-hole, er, I mean her lady’s maid. Burrich, a.k.a., Heart of the Pack, was Prince Chivalry’s man and is the stablemaster in Buckkeep with authority over horses, birds, and hounds. He has been charged with raising Fitz. Vixen is Burrich’s bitch-hound; Ruddy is his horse. The Fool is Shrewd’s fool, and not so much of a fool.

Molly “Redskirts” Chandler was a candlemaker and friend to Newboy (Fitz who fell in love with Molly) in Assassin’s Apprentice. Jade was a seaman who took Molly away from Buckkeep. Molly’s mother had been a tiring woman to Lady Heather when Queen Constance was alive (the older princes’ mother). Brinna was the nasty fishwife. Kerry was one of the boys Fitz and Molly had run through the town with. Now he’s a Forged one.

King Shrewd is Fitz’s grandfather and the man to whom Fitz has pledged his life. Wallace (or as the Fool calls him, Wall’s Ass) is the king’s personal man and why they don’t put someone in who is more loyal to Shrewd I do not understand… Queen-in-Waiting Kettricken is desperate for Prince, um, King-in-Waiting Verity‘s attention, however, Verity is distracted with using his Skill to protect the kingdom, using up his life force to try and keep them safe. Charim is Verity’s servingman. Leon is his wolfhound, and Truth his horse. Rosemary is personal maid to Kettricken. Softstep is her horse. Foxglove is the captain of the Queen’s guard; Whisper and Kerf are also Queen’s guards and ride out with them to Neatbay. King Eyod of the Mountain Kingdom is Kettricken’s father. Jonqui, is the King’s sister, Kettricken’s aunt, who has healed Fitz of the poisoning he suffered in Assassin’s Apprentice.

Prince Regal is Verity’s half-brother and a spoiled, bored — and Inland-bred — greedy wretch. Serene has taken Galen’s position as the leader of the Skill Coterie in Buckkeep (he was Queen Desire’s bastard son), and she hates Fitz with a passion. August has retired to Withywoods, his Skill gone. The other surviving members of Galen’s old group are Justin, Will (he heads to the far north, to Red Tower in Bearns), Carrod, and Burl (he’ll be sent to Neatbay Tower). The guards Regal uses include Chester, Bolt who enjoys beating Fitz too much, Kelfry takes no joy in it, and Verde among too many others.

Chade is another bastard son, and half-brother to King Shrewd for whom he serves as the royal assassin and spymaster. Part of his disguise includes Lady Thyme. He’s also teaching Fitz his profession. Slink is his weasel.

The men who accompany Verity
Keen, Keef and Kef, Chestnut, Burrich, Charim, and Hod the arms master go with Verity to seek out aid.

Blade is a sergeant in the guards. Pluck is a page boy. The Rurisk is the largest of the ships Verity has built. Jharck is the mate; Nonge is one of the Outislanders who have volunteered for her crew. The Constance is another ship and will have Carrod aboard her.

Mistress Hasty is the palace housekeeper. Fedwren is the scribe who taught Fitz his letters. Mellow is the court singer. Sara is the castle cook and is both a smart, observant woman as well as an easily deceived one. Ginna‘s daughter is the one Fitz tries to save. Hands is the stableboy Burrich trains when Fitz is removed from the stables and his care. Stoutheart is the horse Hands rides.

The Red-Ship raiders are Outislanders. Kebal Rawbread started as a solitary pirate but brutalized Outislanders into going along with him. It seems the escralled, the Forged, started with him. Chade Farseer once traveled there and ferreted out some of this news, and that Rawbread fears a pale woman. The White Ship, perhaps?

There is Skill, there is Wit, and there are the Hedge magics. One is more respected, another is beastly, the user to be executed, and the last are both the charlatan and mythic. Skill is tied closely to the Farseer line; you must be blood kin to have any Skill magic at all. Skill allows one to reach out to another’s mind and know what they’re thinking, communicate, or influence their thinking. The Wit is out of favor, once a native, natural magic of those with a kinship with beasts. The danger is in falling too far into the beast mind, allowing it to take over your thoughts and actions. A king’s man is one who gives of their strength to the one Skilling, AND knowing when to stop giving it to stay alive. A coterie is six to eight people with Skill who get on well with each other and at least one of them attuned to the king to receive his messages. The key member is usually a King’s or Queen’s Man or Woman.

The Six Duchies is the name of Shrewd’s kingdom and Buckkeep is its capital. Those Duchies are split into the four Coastal Duchies which are suffering from the raids, and the two Inland Duchies which don’t see why they have to pay taxes to protect the coast. The one that allows the trade ships in and out. Taker was the founder of the Farseer line and the start of the kingdom. Duke Shemshy of Shoaks; Bayguard is the name of the keep at Neatbay, the home Keep of Duke Kelvar and Lady Grace, the Rippon Duchy; Buck; and, Duke Brawndy of Bearns is the fourth Coastal Duchy. Brawndy is willing to accept Fitz as a son-in-law. Ripplekeep is the capital of Bearns. Faith and Celerity are his daughters. Duke Ram of Tilth and Lady Placid and Regal’s cousin, Lord Bright, the heir to Duke Holder of the Duchy of Farrow are the Inland Duchies willing to help Regal strip Buckkeep. Lance is a stableman for Tilth. Tradeford is one of the traditional residences of the Dukes of Farrow.

Madja is a self-proclaimed prophetess (she renames herself Virago) whom Fitz must run out of town.

The Elderlings are a mythical race who supposedly saved the Six Duchies from the raiders in the past.

The Cover and Title

I suspect the cover is the end of the story as Fitz and Nighteyes look inland from a mountaintop on a brilliant orange, pink, and purple sky under a crescent moon.

The title is the start and end of FitzChivalry Farseer, the Royal Assassin.

three-half-stars

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