Robin Hobb’s work is some of the greatest in fantasy, and the Farseer Trilogy is the first part of her Realm of the Elderlings, spanning multiple books through several series. Royal Assassin is the heart of the Farseer Trilogy, bringing the world of the Six Duchies and the characters introduced in the first book into a time of intrigue and treachery. Carrying on from the climatic end of Assassin’s Apprentice, Royal Assassin raises the stakes and crafts a story as engaging and complex as ever.
After Fitz barely survives his first mission as king’s assassin, he is left physically disabled, bitter, and angry at the world. He resolves to stay away and forsake his oath as a king’s man, but is quickly drawn back to his home as turmoil erupts. Fitz battles his own demons while intrigue and threats from within Buckkeep contend with the continued threat of the Red Ship Raiders for the greatest threat to King Shrewd’s rule of the Six Duchies. As Shrewd’s health declines, treachery grows from within the kingdom and Fitz must choose between his oath and what he believes is right.
Royal Assassin is the story of Fitz struggling with being a king’s man, and what it means to be someone who is used. Is he merely a tool that is wielded with ruthless precision for the benefit of the kingdom, or is he capable of making his own decisions, regardless of whether it betrays the solemn oath he swore to his grandfather? How much is he willing to give up in service to his king and the kingdom?
I dove into Royal Assassin immediately after finishing Assassin’s Apprentice, and wasted no time in reaching its end. The first book made me invested in the characters, and by the time it ended, I was invested in the greater story of the Six Duchies. The second book carries that legacy as the kingdom comes under attack while it contends with internal treachery, all while maintaining the excellence of storytelling and strength of the characters. As in the first book, the characters of Hobb’s stories are dynamic and authentic, bringing the heart into the narrative. Fitz faces his challenges as the royal bastard and secret assassin, but now he is physically diminished and his life has been changed dramatically by the events at the Mountain Kingdom. His relationship with Molly grows and evolves, adding the complexities of secret love into his storm of secrets and uncertainty. Fitz’s primary task is that of an assassin and a king’s man, serving both King Shrewd and his uncle Prince Verity, as king-in-waiting. His dynamic with Verity is fraught with complications, as they are both uncle and nephew, and king-in-waiting and sworn king’s man. They both have to navigate what that means, both when they are aligned and when their visions diverge. Theirs was easily the most intense and rewarding dynamic in the book for me.
More than anything, it was the suspense and intrigue that captured my attention in Royal Assassin. It is subtle in some aspects and driven in others, woven into the story in beautiful ways. As the kingdom is threatened by the Red Ship Raiders, they leave Forged ones behind, and the common people continue to lose confidence in their king and king-in-waiting. As their loyalty crumbles, Fitz’s treacherous uncle, Prince Regal, continues to position himself strategically to garner power for himself and Fitz must engage in a dangerous dance that will determine the fate of the Six Duchies. Having the events unfold solely through Fitz’s perspective I found to be an excellent way to guide the narrative, in terms of what the reader knows and what they don’t, all which makes the payoff at the end far more significant.
The Farseer Trilogy has become my favorite series of this year, and Royal Assassin cemented it there as it took everything I loved in the first book, and carried it further while bringing even more to the story. The storytelling and narrative craft are excellent, and the powerful characters bring the gripping story to greater heights. Hobb’s created her world, filling it with fantastic and moving characters, and in Royal Assassin she puts them into the larger story that the first book set up so well. There was no hesitation as I finished Assassin’s Apprentice and took up Royal Assassin, and I flew through it. It held my focus the entire time, and once again exceeded expectations of what I thought Robin Hobb could accomplish.
Royal Assassin is written by Robin Hobb, and is published by Del Rey.
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