Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb
An entry in a long-running fantasy series, Fool’s Assassin brings us back to the story of FitzChivalry Farseer, a man who has seen enough trouble and tragedy to fill several lifetimes. His happily-ever-after is interrupted by the birth of a much-longed-for child with his aged wife. But a dark web closes in on the family and the peculiar, tiny little girl who seems trapped into the same courses of fate that have caught her heroic father.
What I learned, Part 1 – The power of exploring different facets of a character’s nature to keep a series fresh. Robin Hobb’s work is my favorite in the genre, and she has achieved something memorable, a world that keeps expanding and deepening with every book. FitzChivalry is thrust into the role of father at an advanced age (though his body seems far younger based on his use of magic), and seeing his happy home-life threatened while he struggles to connect with his strange daughter feels very different from the earlier books of the series.
What I learned, Part 2 – How to pass time elegantly. The author can pass months and years with a paragraph or two which feel rich and lived-in despite their brevity. The level of skill Hobb wields requires multiple readings to figure out just how she achieved this effect, but one of the methods appears to be making montages. A few scattered, vivid moments from the years. But these moments each become micro scenes with conflict and resolution, even if they are resolved in the same sentence. The best comparison I can come up with is from Annie Hall, where the “good times” montage isn’t all happiness, it includes the moment when the lobsters escape the pot and end up on the floor. Conflict at the heart of everything.
What I learned, Part 3 – How to hide things in plain sight. This is an incredibly important skill for any writer. If you decide you want the plot to go in a certain direction, but don’t want it to be obvious well before the fork in the road you need to know how to misdirect without it feeling like a cheat. In this novel we see most of the early part of the story from Fitz’s POV, and he describes the moment when his wife says she is pregnant as the “moment I started to lose her,” because he, like everyone else think she is coming down with dementia (because she is past 60 and they have been together 15 years without her becoming pregnant). Our worry is a genuine one because the Fitz isn’t aging normally and we share his worry that his wife’s mind is going and that he will be left all alone once more.
What I learned, Part 4 – The power of deep-seated misunderstanding between characters. This is a skill which can develop sympathy for both characters on either side of the divide. However, a misunderstanding that could easily be rectified in one conversation would do more harm than good and seem to be a cheap ploy. In this case we see the father and daughter’s misunderstanding in pained terms and hope for the moment that can understand one another.