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Fool's Fate by Robin Hobb

1/12/2010. Contributed by Izzy Kaminski

Buy Fool's Fate in the USA - or Buy Fool's Fate in the UK

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Fool's Fate (The Tawney Man book 3) by Robin Hobb. pub: Bantam Spectra. 914 page paperback. Price: $ 6.99 (US), $10.99 (CAN). ISBN: 0-553-58246-1.

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‘Fool's Fate’ is the last in Robin Hobb's ‘Tawny Man Trilogy’ and the culmination of a hefty nine-book series that includes two other trilogies, ‘Farseer’ and ‘Liveship Traders’.

The threads from previous novels have been leading up to this book in both obvious and deviously subtle ways and those of us who have followed the long and winding road to get here are finally rewarded with a proper heroic quest.

Prince Dutiful is now engaged to Out Islands noble Elliania, a strange but spirited girl who insists that he prove himself by cutting off the head of a dragon buried inside a glacier. It's clear from the start that there is more to her request than a simple dragon-slaying and, unsurprisingly, the seemingly straightforward task is elevated to an existential moment of self-doubt that sparks off more courtly intrigue and reveals genuine evil in the form of the previously mythical Pale Woman.

As with all of Hobb's novels, the action in ‘Fool's Fate’ is entirely character driven and most of the people who populate it are complex, flawed and utterly believable. Both the ‘Tawny Man’ and ‘Farseer’ trilogies are written from the perspective of FitzChivalry, the bastard son of the former prince, a character so fully rounded that I sometimes feel as if I know him better than I do myself.

We've followed Fitz's thought processes at a microscopic level and know that he's a decent man caught between equally strong and binding loyalties to his kingdom, friends, family and own heart. In ‘Fool's Fate’, he is still masquerading as Tom Badgerlock, but his real identity is starting to seep out.

However, it's the character of the Fool (aka Lord Golden), still mystery to Fitz despite their many years of friendship, that is of real interest here. The Fool believes he is the White Prophet, a member of a near-extinct race who can foresee the future or at least a particular version of the future that he is impelled to bring about.

He has cleverly set up his 'Catalyst', Fitz, to make the ultimate decision of the novel, whether to slay or free the dragon. His choice, which throws up some vague questions about free will and destiny, will change the future of this fantasy world entirely.

Both the Fool and Fitz's assassin mentor, Chade, are like authorial figures trying to push Fitz into doing what suits their own ends, but Fitz must make the decision that fits his own character best. It is as if Hobb had created a character so real that she is no longer fully in control of him and this is where Hobb's incredible characterisation really shines. But the Fool himself remains a frustrating mystery to the reader. Then what about the Pale Woman, a study in evil so one-dimensional that she looks ridiculous compared to the other characters?

‘Fool's Fate’ is a welcome ending to the series but in some senses it is the weakest of the ‘Tawny Man’ books, none of which quite live up to the previous two trilogies. It feels rushed, as if Hobb had got the psychological and dramatic complexity out of the way and was forced to tie up the loose ends of her many mysteries.

The fact that we can guess some of what happens – Prince Dutiful's blossoming relationship with Elliania, for example – is testament to the faithfulness to the characters and the fact that we can pre-empt some of their decisions. But you often feel that someone gives in too easily to a request or forgives a slight which they would earlier have taken several pages to angst over. Readers who lack the patience for the slow plot and long introspective passages may prefer this but, quite frankly, they would have abandoned Hobb a long time ago.

Having said that, there are still plenty of twists to keep us hooked. We finally learn about the people of the Out Islands, which have for so long been the faceless and nameless enemy to the Six Duchies kingdom. Far more than inhuman ‘raiders’, this matriarchal society has a complex culture and history of its own. Hobb has spent much of the Fitz books exploring the idea of fatherhood in its broadest sense so it is refreshing to have women and mothers brought back into the picture.

We find out more about dragons, which makes more sense to those who have read the ‘Liveship Traders’ trilogy, but are left with much that is unexplained. Some of this is likely to be revealed in Hobb's current ‘Rain Wild’ series.

There are also more insights into the magic of this land, where some people are born with the Skill, a pseudo-psychic connection that can be used to relay thoughts, share strength and even force an unwitting victim to your will. Still others have the Wit, an ability to communicate and form deep psycho-emotional bonds with animals. In ‘Fool's Fate’, the characters begin to actually use their magic for useful purposes rather than endlessly learning about it, but at times it still seems that Hobb invents a 'new' use of the Skill or Wit to write herself out of a narrative hole.

Although the epilogue to ‘Fool's Fate’ gives us a tantalising nod to a possible further book – ‘Sometimes a gap can seem like a promise yet to be fulfilled’ – I hope Hobb resists the temptation to revisit these characters in any depth, because to do so would violate the necessarily blunt ending to the relationship between the Fool and Fitz.

The end of such a long series can sometimes leave you begging for more but, to be honest, I'm exhausted. Nothing could have made me put this book down, I had to follow the story through to its bitter dramatic end, but my arms ache as if I'd been wielding the ice axe myself and I'm quite happy to let Fitz have his happy-ever-after at long bloody last.

Izzy Kaminski

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