The Barnes & Noble Review
Fool's Errand, part of Robin Hobbs's Tawny Man series, takes place approximately 15 years after the events in the Farseer trilogy and continues chronicling the life of FitzChivalry Farseer, a heroic young boy introduced in Assassin's Apprentice. Fitz, as he is called, is the bastard son of Prince Chivalry and is treated as an outcast by the whole royal court -- everyone, that is, except King Shrewd, who has him secretly trained in the arts of the assassin. He is made even more invaluable to the king because of his Skill, a hereditary magical power that allows Fitz to telepathically communicate with other Farseers and spiritually bond with animals, among other things. As the series progresses, Fitz grows up and begins to come to grips with his incredible power -- and the responsibility that goes along with it.
Here we rediscover FitzChivalry Farseer as a much older man (though by the way he speaks, you would think he was ancient!). He's living with his bonded wolf, Nighteyes, and a young boy he is raising named Hap. They share an isolated life in a small cabin in the deep woods. Fitz now goes by the name of Tom Badgerlock and refuses to go back to the Buckkeep. He is, after all, supposed to be dead. Both Fitz and Nighteyes are aging, and Fitz is pretending to enjoy his life of inactivity. This contentedness is severely tested when he gets a visit from some old friends.
Fitz's old mentor Chade arrives first, showing signs of having the ability to Skill. The only other person known to have this ability is Fitz himself. Chade wants Fitz to return with him to Buckkeep and train the young Prince Dutiful in the art, but he adamantly refuses. Two more old friends visit Fitz, and the news is not good. The Witted, it seems, are being persecuted throughout the Six Duchies because of their bonds with animals. To complicate matters, Prince Dutiful -- soon to be married -- is missing. Fitz's assignment to get him back in time for the wedding ceremony seems like a fool's errand, but the hazards ahead could signal the end of the Six Duchies as he knows it.
FYI: Readers don't have to have read Hobb's Farseer novels before beginning this book (though, in all honesty, it does add to the experience). Hobb masterfully slips in the needed background information smoothly and concisely. Within the first few chapters, all readers should have a solid grasp on the realm of the Six Duchies, and on Fitz and his previous history.
Fool's Errand is one heck of a good read: it is fast-paced, there's a ton of action and adventure, and fans of Hobb's Farseer series will thoroughly enjoy getting to know Fitz again as an adult.
In this hard-to-put-down follow-up to the Farseer Trilogy, Hobb maintains the high standards of her earlier fantasy series. The Fool and FitzChivalry Farseer band together once more to ride against the foes of the Farseer royal family in the kingdom of the Six Duchies. Last seen in Assassin's Quest, FitzChivalry (aka Tom Badgerlock due to the shock of white in his dark hair) has matured beyond the youth blindly following orders. For the past 15 years, Fitz has quietly led the life of a semi-recluse, trying his hardest to disappear. Believing that his glory days are over, he's surprised when fate (in the form of the Fool) pulls him back into the political intrigues that plague the Six Duchies. Endowed with both royal Skill magic and beast magic, Fitz assumes the task of returning the wayward heir to the throne, Prince Dutiful, to his home before his betrothal ceremony something that should be an easy task. In the event, the easy task proves extremely difficult, both physically and mentally for Fitz. The first half of the novel mostly focuses on Fitz's angst-ridden past. The heart-thumping, sword-clashing action that Hobb is known for emerges only during the second half, bringing Fitz fully to life. This is not to say that the first half is by any means dull. It's not. But the full range of Fitz's capabilities doesn't come to the forefront until later. When the action sequences finally kick in, they're non-stop. What starts as a very good read shifts into a stay-up-until-2:00 a.m.-to-finish type of book. (Jan. 9) Forecast: Stephen Youll's quiet jacket art gives no hint of the novel's intensity, but Hobb fans will know better and not be deterred. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Book one in The Tawny Man series continues the story of FitzChivalry Farseer, illegitimate cousin in the ruling dynasty of Hobb's Farseer series. Having withdrawn from his obligations to royalty, FitzChivalry lives in a village with his wolf, Nighteyes. Imbued with the rare combination of Wit, or animal magic, and a more orthodox Skill magic, FitzChivalry alone can uncover the trail of the lost Prince Dutiful, heir to the Farseer line. Reluctant to reenter the life he purposely eschewed, FitzChivalry nonetheless agrees to accompany Lord Golden on a quest for the prince. Lord Golden, Court Fool turned royal protector, depends on FitzChivalry's special magics to seek out the creatures responsible for the prince's disappearance. FitzChivalry at last acknowledges his responsibility to the Farseer line, his Wit heritage, and the inevitability of change. This novel needs streamlining; the first third of the book plods, heavy with description and background, although the plot noticeably tightens toward the end, concluding in a compact, suspenseful way that is satisfying and believable. Women have a peripheral role. The story's three womenscheming seductress, mysterious guide, and evil enchantressare superficially developed and sparingly mentioned. Although FitzChivalry is always likeable, his character spends too much time reminiscing, regretting, and complaining to transform believably into the ruthless killing machine he occasionally becomes. Nevertheless the memorable personalities of FitzChivalry, the Fool, and Nighteyes will appeal to the teen fantasy reader willing to persevere until the story hits its stride. This new series is recommended for school and public libraries witha strong fantasy collection. VOYA CODES: 3Q 3P S A/YA (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2002, Bantam Spectra, 496p, $24.95. Ages 15 to Adult. Reviewer: Caitlin Augusta SOURCE: VOYA, February 2002 (Vol. 24, No.6)
Hobb hit bulls'-eyes with the Farseer Assassins trilogy, which ended with the enthralling Assassin's Quest (1997). Now she launches that series' hero, FitzChivalry Farseer, into a new trilogy. At 35, bearded, retired for 15 years, and living under an assumed name in the country, Fitz remains bothered by his Skill, mental powers that allow telepathy and coercion, and his Wit, a "dirty magic" that allows mental ties with beasts, including his wolf companion Nighteyes. Chade Fallstar, the top assassin who taught Fitz his poisons and killing craft, seeks him out and says that the young Prince Dutiful, Fitz's unacknowledged child by blood, needs his training in magic. But Fitz holds back, lusting to return to the Mountains and the godlike race of Elderlings. Still on hand: minstrel Starling Birdsong, who cares for Hap, Fitz's roaming boy. Then Prince Dutiful vanishes, and Fitz's new quest begins. And though he will find the Prince, uncertainty still rules their destinies. As the Fool warns, all life is a battle against Farseer Fate. Once again, smoothly done with rounded characters in words as plain as bread.
From the Publisher
Praise for Robin Hobb and Fool’s Errand
“Fantasy as it ought to be written . . . Robin Hobb’s books are diamonds in a sea of zircons.”—George R. R. Martin
“[Robin] Hobb has created a world brimming with detail and complexity [and] once again proves herself a full master of the epic fantasy.”—Tulsa World
“Splendid . . . Despite some truly wrenching twists, there is a welcome sense of new beginnings.”—Locus
Read an Excerpt
Is time the wheel that turns, or the track it leaves behind?
— Kelstar’s Riddle
He came one late, wet spring, and brought the wide world back to my doorstep. I was thirty-five that year. When I was twenty, I would have considered a man of my current age to be teetering on the verge of dotage. These days, it seemed neither young nor old to me, but a suspension between the two. I no longer had the excuse of callow youth, and I could not yet claim the eccentricities of age. In many ways, I was no longer sure what I thought of myself. Sometimes it seemed that my life was slowly disappearing behind me, fading like footprints in the rain, until perhaps I had always been the quiet man living an unremarkable life in a cottage between the forest and the sea.
I lay abed that morning, listening to the small sounds that sometimes brought me peace. The wolf breathed steadily before the softly crackling hearth fire. I quested toward him with our shared Wit magic, and gently brushed his sleeping thoughts. He dreamed of running over snow-smooth rolling hills with a pack. For Nighteyes, it was a dream of silence, cold, and swiftness. Softly I withdrew my touch and left him to his private peace.
Outside my small window, the returning birds sang their challenges to one another. There was a light wind, and whenever it stirred the trees, they released a fresh shower of last night’s rain to patter on the wet sward. The trees were silver birches, four of them. They had been little more than sticks when I had planted them. Now their airy foliage cast a pleasant light shade outside my bedroom window. I closed my eyes and could almost feel the flicker of the light on my eyelids. I would not get up, not just yet.
I had had a bad evening the night before, and had had to face it alone. My boy, Hap, had gone off gallivanting with Starling almost three weeks ago, and still had not returned. I could not blame him. My quiet reclusive life was beginning to chafe his young shoulders. Starling’s stories of life at Buckkeep, painted with all the skill of her minstrel ways, created pictures too vivid for him to ignore. So I had reluctantly let her take him to Buckkeep for a holiday, that he might see for himself a Springfest there, eat a carris-seed-topped cake, watch a puppet show, mayhap kiss a girl.
Hap had grown past the point where regular meals and a warm bed were enough to content him. I had told myself it was time I thought of letting him go, of finding him an apprenticeship with a good carpenter or joiner. He showed a knack for such things, and the sooner a lad took to a trade, the better he learned it. But I was not ready to let him go just yet. For now I would enjoy a month of peace and solitude, and recall how to do things for myself. Nighteyes and I had each other for company. What more could we need?
Yet no sooner were they gone than the little house seemed too quiet. The boy’s excitement at leaving had been too reminiscent of how I myself had once felt about Springfests and the like. Puppet shows and carris-seed cakes and girls to kiss all brought back vivid memories I thought I had long ago drowned.
Perhaps it was those memories that birthed dreams too vivid to ignore. Twice I had awakened sweating and shaking with my muscles clenched. I had enjoyed years of respite from such unquiet, but in the past four years, my old fixation had returned. Of late, it came and went, with no pattern I could discern. It was almost as if the old Skill magic had suddenly recalled me and was reaching to drag me out of my peace and solitude. Days that had been as smooth and alike as beads on a string were now disrupted by its call. Sometimes the Skill-hunger ate at me as a canker eats sound flesh. Other times, it was no more than a few nights of yearning, vivid dreams. If the boy had been home,
I probably could have shaken off the Skill’s persistent plucking at me. But he was gone, and so yesterday evening I had given in to the unvanquished addiction such dreams stirred. I had walked down to the sea cliffs, sat on the bench my boy had made for me, and stretched out my magic over the waves. The wolf had sat beside me for a time, his look one of ancient rebuke. I tried to ignore him. “No worse than your penchant for bothering porcupines,” I pointed out to him.
Save that their quills can be pulled out. What stabs you only goes deeper and festers. His deep eyes glanced past mine as he shared his pointed thoughts.
Why don’t you go hunt a rabbit?
You’ve sent the boy and his bow away.
“You could run it down yourself, you know. Time was when you did that.”
Time was when you went with me to hunt. Why don’t we go and do that, instead of this fruitless seeking? When will you accept that there is no one out there who can hear you?
I just have to ... try.
Why? Is my companionship not enough for you?
It is enough for me. You are always enough for me. I opened myself wider to the Wit-bond we shared and tried to let him feel how the Skill tugged at me. It is the magic that wants this, not me.
Take it away. I do not want to see that. And when I had closed that part of myself to him, he asked piteously, Will it never leave us alone?
I had no answer to that. After a time, the wolf lay down, put his great head on his paws, and closed his eyes. I knew he would stay by me because he feared for me. Twice the winter before last, I had overindulged in Skilling, burning physical energy in that mental reaching until I had been unable even to totter back to the house on my own. Nighteyes had had to fetch Hap both times. This time we were alone.
I knew it was foolish and useless. I also knew I could not stop myself. Like a starving man who eats grass to appease the terrible emptiness in his belly, so I reached out with the Skill, touching the lives that passed within my reach. I could brush their thoughts and temporarily appease the great craving that filled me with emptiness. I could know a little of the family out for a windy day’s fishing. I could know the worries of a captain whose cargo was just a bit heavier than his ship would carry well. The mate on the same ship was worried about the man her daughter wished to marry; he was a lazy fellow for all of his pretty ways. The ship’s boy was cursing his luck; they’d get to Buckkeep Town too late for Springfest. There’d be nothing left but withered garlands browning in the gutters by the time he got there. It was always his luck.
There was a certain sparse distraction to these knowings. It restored to me the sense that the world was larger than the four walls of my house, larger even than the confines of my own garden. But it was not the same as true Skilling. It could not compare to that moment of completion when minds joined and one sensed the wholeness of the world as a great entity in which one’s own body was no more than a mote of dust.
The wolf’s firm teeth on my wrist had stirred me from my reaching. Come on. That’s enough. If you collapse down here, you’ll spend a cold wet night. I am not the boy, to drag you to your feet. Come on, now.
I had risen, seeing blackness at the edges of my vision when I first stood. It had passed, but not the blackness of spirit that came in its wake. I had followed the wolf back through the gathering dark beneath the dripping trees, back to where my fire had burned low in the hearth and the candles guttered on the table. I made myself elfbark tea, black and bitter, knowing it would only make my spirit more desolate, but knowing also that it would appease my aching head. I had burned away the nervous energy of the elfbark by working on a scroll describing the stone game and how it was played. I had tried several times before to complete such a treatise and each time given it up as hopeless. One could only learn to play it by playing it, I told myself. This time I was adding to the text a set of illustrations, to show how a typical game might progress. When I set it aside just before dawn was breaking, it seemed only the stupidest of my latest attempts. I went to bed more early than late.
I awoke to half the morning gone. In the far corner of the yard, the chickens were scratching and gossiping among themselves. The rooster crowed once. I groaned. I should get up. I should check for eggs and scatter a handful of grain to keep the poultry tamed. The garden was just sprouting. It needed weeding already, and I should reseed the row of fesk that the slugs had eaten. I needed to gather some more of the purple flag while it was still in bloom; my last attempt at an ink from it had gone awry, but I wanted to try again. There was wood to split and stack. Porridge to cook, a hearth to sweep. And I should climb the ash tree over the chicken house and cut off that one cracked limb before a storm brought it down on the chicken house itself.
And we should go down to the river and see if the early fish runs have begun yet. Fresh fish would be good. Nighteyes added his own concerns to my mental list.
Last year you nearly died from eating rotten fish.
All the more reason to go now, while they are fresh and jumping. You could use the boy’s spear.
And get soaked and chilled.
Better soaked and chilled than hungry.
I rolled over and went back to sleep. So I’d be lazy one morning. Who’d know or care? The chickens? It seemed but moments later that his thoughts nudged me.
My brother, awake. A strange horse comes.
I was instantly alert. The slant of light in my window told me that hours had passed. I rose, dragged a robe over my head, belted it, and thrust my feet into my summer shoes. They were little more than leather soles with a few straps to keep them on my feet. I pushed my hair back from my face. I rubbed my sandy eyes. “Go see who it is,” I bade Nighteyes.
See for yourself. He’s nearly to the door.
I was expecting no one. Starling came thrice or four times a year, to visit for a few days and bring me gossip and fine paper and good wine, but she and Hap would not be returning so soon. Other visitors to my door were rare. There was Baylor who had his cot and hogs in the next vale, but he did not own a horse. A tinker came by twice a year. He had found me first by accident in a thunderstorm when his horse had gone lame and my light through the trees had drawn him from the road. Since his visit, I’d had other visits from similar travelers. The tinker had carved a curled cat, the sign of a hospitable house, on a tree beside the trail that led to my cabin. I had found it, but left it intact, to beckon an occasional visitor to my door.
So this caller was probably a lost traveler, or a road-weary trader. I told myself a guest might be a pleasant distraction, but the thought was less than convincing.
I heard the horse halt outside and the small sounds of a man dismounting.
The Gray One, the wolf growled low.
My heart near stopped in my chest. I opened the door slowly as the old man was reaching to knock at it. He peered at me, and then his smile broke forth. “Fitz, my boy. Ah, Fitz!”
He reached to embrace me. For an instant, I stood frozen, unable to move. I did not know what I felt. That my old mentor had tracked me down after all these years was frightening. There would be a reason, something more than simply seeing me again. But I also felt that leap of kinship, that sudden stirring of interest that Chade had always roused in me. When I had been a boy at Buckkeep, his secret summons would come at night, bidding me climb the concealed stair to his lair in the tower above my room. There he mixed his poisons and taught me the assassin’s trade and made me irrevocably his. Always my heart had beaten faster at the opening of that secret door. Despite all the years and the pain, he still affected me that way. Secrets and the promise of adventure clung to him.
So I found myself reaching out to grasp his stooping shoulders and pull him to me in a hug. Skinny, the old man was getting skinny again, as bony as he had been when I first met him. But now I was the recluse in the worn robe of gray wool. He was dressed in royal blue leggings and a doublet of the same with slashed insets of green that sparked off his eyes. His riding boots were black leather, as were the soft gloves he wore. His cloak of green matched the insets in his doublet and was lined with fur. White lace spilled from his collar and sleeves. The scattered scars that had once shamed him into hiding had faded to a pale speckling on his weathered face. His white hair hung loose to his shoulders and was curled above his brow. There were emeralds in his earrings, and another one set squarely in the center of the gold band at his throat.
The old assassin smiled mockingly as he saw me take in his splendor. “Ah, but a queen’s councillor must look the part, if he is to get the respect both he and she deserve in his dealings.”
“I see,” I said faintly, and then, finding my tongue, “Come in, do come in. I fear you will find my home a bit ruder than what you have obviously become accustomed to, but you are welcome all the same.”
From the Hardcover edition.