Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb

Royal AssassinA review by Nalini Haynes

ISBN: 9780006480105
ISBN10: 0006480101
On Sale: 1997
Format: Paperback, 768 pages
Publisher: HarperVoyager (HarperCollins)
Rating: 4 and a half stars 4 1/2 out of 5

I’m currently reading the Farseer trilogy and other Fool-related books in anticipation of increasing my enjoyment of Fool’s Assassin, the latest Robin Hobb book to grace my mail box. Royal Assassin is the second in the Farseer trilogy; I recently reviewed the first, Assassin’s Apprentice. If you don’t want spoilers for book 1, don’t read the review for book 2.

Fitz survived his uncle Regal’s attempts on his life in the Mountain Kingdom in book 1. Don’t you just love family politics? Especially when the arrogant, spoilt uncle despises his lesser nephew to the point of trying to murder him. At the close of Assassin’s Apprentice, Fitz returned to the Six Duchies’ royal seat, Buckkeep, but Royal Assassin retraces that journey in much greater detail.

The Red Ship Raiders continue attacking the Six Duchies. The raiders make no demands, they just rape, pillage and destroy. Hostages are Forged so they return without any human feeling, reduced to creatures less than animals who attack their own families.

Fitz fell in love with Molly the candle-wicker in book 1; he pursues that relationship. When Fitz approaches King Shrewd to ask permission to marry, the king tells Fitz of other plans for Fitz’s hand. He’s to be married to a nice girl but not the girl he loves. Regardless, Fitz flits in and out of Molly’s bedchamber, calling her into disrepute and making her Regal’s target.

Verity, the King-in-Waiting, embarks on a quest to find the Elderlings who helped the Six Duchies once before when beleaguered by raiders.

Kettricken, Verity’s bride and Queen-in-Waiting, defends the coasts by riding with troops when newly pregnant and giving away her jewellery to fund repairs of devastated towns. Regal undermines Kettricken, including taking credit for her courageous ride to Neatbay with troops, a rescue mission he tried to prevent.

King Shrewd’s health is failing. Fitz suspects poison only to discover his mentor Chade has had a hand in the king’s drug supply. Chade tells Fitz to trust him but doesn’t explain what is going on.

Burrich, Fitz’s unofficial foster-father, has secrets. If Fitz had been told sooner, it may have made all the difference.

Politics. Secrets. Family. It’s all very complicated.

Throughout Royal Assassin, Fitz is verging on adulthood while seething with justifiable rage at his family who have failed to acknowledge him, they’ve used him and tried to murder him.

Regal’s actions make no sense to Fitz nor me. Robin Hobb handles this well, talking about not weighing Regal by Fitz’s bushel, Regal being the spoilt, not-too-bright younger son coddled by a subversive queen. Regal suspects Lady Thyme (aka Chade, the king’s assassin) of poisoning his mother at his father’s behest so Regal is determined to wreak revenge on Lady Thyme, the king and his allies regardless of the consequences.

In many ways Fitz becomes a less-than-sympathetic character in Royal Assassin but this is countered by Fitz telling the story as an old man filled with the wisdom of years reflecting on his actions.

The Fool who is, I trust, the Fool of Fool’s Assassin, is an albino given to the king by another court. Although the Fool is probably a magical disabled person, I forgive Robin Hobb this trope because the Fool is an awesome character with ethics, integrity, intelligence and undiscovered depths. The Fool is the Tyrion Lannister of Robin Hobb’s series. The Fool is a strong personality, a ‘chaotic neutral’ force who threatens to disrupt everything, and yet he’s less present in Royal Assassin than in Assassin’s Apprentice. I look forward to more of the Fool in future books.

If Royal Assassin was a movie, whether it passed the Bechdel Test would rely on whether the story was literally told from Fitz’s point of view or whether it included conversations and relationships the Fitz acknowledges but does not show. Women are part of keep life and not as restricted as in many other fantasy or historical accounts. Women guards may not be common but they exist. Kettricken is an interesting, admirable character who gathers ladies-in-waiting and women guards around her. Royal Assassin implies relationships and conversations involving only women that, if shown in a movie, would enable it to pass the Bechdel Test.

The Farseer trilogy is epic fantasy beyond the standards of the 1990s when it was first published. Had I reviewed this trilogy a few years ago, I would have given it 5 stars. After all my study of writing and editing, I’m still giving Royal Assassin 4 1/2 stars.