Assassin’s Fate

I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time. Assassin’s Fate  by Robin Hobb (spoilers).  It’s the last book in The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy. If you’re familiar with Robin Hobb’s work, then you know this isn’t a stand-alone trilogy, either. It is in fact the third trilogy set in the Six Duchies and featuring FitzChivalry Farseer as the narrator and protagonist, the first being The Farseer Trilogy, followed by The Tawny Man Trilogy. Other series belong in this world as well, though they tell other stories, in The Liveship Traders Trilogy and The Rain Wild Chronicles.

I first began reading Robin Hobb a couple of years ago, and I immediately devoured the stories of the bastard prince turned assassin’s apprentice. The world of the Six Duchies captured and enthralled me. It was a surprise to discover the new series out, and endlessly frustrating to not be able to read it. See, I have a problem. I don’t like beginning a series if  I can’tread the entire thing straight through (I made that mistake with Game of Thrones, now I’m chomping at the bit for the next book). I vowed to wait until the trilogy was completed before I started it. Assassin’s Fate was released in May of this year, so I put it on hold and checked out the first two books, Fool’s Assassin and Fool’s Quest. I waited to hear that Assassin’s Fate was ready for me to pick up, but the email never came. That was when I learned something important about my new library system in the middle of nowhere. Our town library doesn’t carry Robin Hobb, so the request had to be sent to outside libraries for a loan. However, none of those libraries lend their books for the first six months after release. So there I was, two books down, dying to know what happens, and unable to secure book three.

Fast forward to now, when I finally have my hands on a copy. I’ve done little else for the past three days (I haven’t even been writing, it’s so hard to tear my mind away). I’m nearly 3/4 done, and I want to share my thoughts with you.

It’s difficult for me to see Fitz portrayed as an older man. We’re first introduced to him as a child, and we watch him grow into a man capable of anything. He’s trained by the king’s assassin, and develops skills and abilities that allow him to pass unnoticed, bend others to his will, and physically conquer any task. As this series begins, Fitz is living a comfortable life in the country with his family, and has lost his assassin’s edge. It’s a different Fitz than the one I fell in love with. He’s working hard to recover those lost skills, but it’s been an adjustment for me. The Fool is also not the man he used to be. His changes are not due to age, but rather the cruelty and the torture he has endured. The changes in both men strain their relationship, and it hurts me to see them at odds with each other.

This series also does something unique. The book isn’t told entirely from Fitz’s perspective. His little daughter, Bee, is added as a narrator. There’s value in this, and her story is important and fascinating, but it takes time away from telling Fitz’s tale. Fitz is the one I want to follow, and I miss him when I reading about Bee.

There’s significantly less magic used in this series. The Skill and The Wit, both inherited magics, play a huge role in developing Fitz’s character, and are thoroughly explored in The Farseer Trilogy. They were somewhat diminished in The Tawny Man Trilogy, and have nearly disappeared altogether. The characters talk about them some, but they are rarely used by Fitz anymore. I miss these as well. His use of the magics was an interesting aspect of his character, and their absence lessens him. Makes him more normal, but he has never been a normal man, and I don’t like the effort put into making him normal.

Many things about this series confuse me, and I believe that’s because Fitz and The Fool leave the Six Duchies and travel far. They interact with the liveship traders from Bingtown, the Pirate Isles, and the dragons in the Rain Wilds. I haven’t read these books, but I assume the people they meet and the tales they tell are contained in these books. The characters know (or at least know of) these new additions, but I’m left feeling lost. It’s my fault for not reading the other books, but I didn’t expect them to intersect in quite this way.

I also miss Nighteyes. He’s been gone since the beginning of The Tawny Man Trilogy, and with him any desire for Fitz to use his Wit. The wolf completed Fitz in ways that are now gaping, and his insights helped to hone Fitz’s skills. He was wise, and gentle, and fully embraced living in the moment. He saved Fitz’s life on multiple occasions and only enhanced the story. After building up Fitz’s Wit and bring Nighteyes into his life, I don’t understand why Robin Hobb would leave such a position unfilled. I get Nighteyes dying, logically. These books span decades, and a single wolf just cannot live through that. But why she allow Fitz to remain unpaired and his Wit to wither I just don’t know.

There are more things I could write. As I said, I love these books, and they’re so complicated and involved that I could never attempt to fully dissect them. If you’ve read them let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Side Jobs

More Dresden Files. I know. But the series is almost done, and then I’ll find something new to talk about. (You can check out my previous Dresden Files posts here and here.)

Side Jobs is a different kind of story. The Dresden Files series encompasses more than a decade of adventures had by Harry Dresden, professional wizard. Side Jobs is a compilation of short stories interwoven into the larger plotline. They have little bearing on the series overall, but do offer insight and character development and, let’s face it, just a little bit extra for us nerds who can’t get enough.

I’m a couple of stories in, but for this post I want to focus on the first story in the book, A Restoration of Faith. In his introduction, Jim Butcher writes, “This one won’t win any awards, because it is, quite frankly, a novice effort…I had barely learned to keep my feet under me as a writer, and to some degree that shows in this piece.” This is a story that editors declined to publish, and it predates any of the full-length Dresden Files novels.

Reading it easily shows how fairly simple the story is. I’m 14 books into this series, and I feel like I have a good grasp on how Jim Butcher tells a story. A Restoration of Faith doesn’t come close to the finished works I’m used to. As well it shouldn’t. It was a long time ago, at the beginning of his career, and he was still learning. Obviously, it worked out. He made the New York Times Bestseller list.

I’m taking this story as a lesson today. Everyone starts somewhere. And the stuff at the beginning isn’t always that great. I’m still at the beginning, and anyone who’s read my posts knows I’ve been struggling. Maybe my stuff isn’t that great. That doesn’t mean I won’t write a bestseller. I just have things to learn first.

Ghost Story

I’m still reading the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (see previous post here). I’m about to finish Ghost Story, which is book 13 (spoilers!). This is one series I just can’t seem to put down. I’ve read a couple of other books interspersed throughout, but even then I have trouble getting Harry Dresden out of my head and focusing on a different story.

I’ll admit, I didn’t like the beginning of Ghost Story. At the end of the previous book, Changes, Harry is shot and falls into a lake, and we’re lead to believe that he dies. It’s fitting, then, that the next title is Ghost Story. Because, when the book starts, Harry is a ghost. He gets sent back from the afterlife to find his killer, but, since, he’s a ghost, he can’t communicate directly with his friends.

I have to applaud Jim Butcher here, for being able to change how he writes his protagonist. It’s still the same Harry, but how he interacts with the world is required to change. He can’t be exposed to sunlight. He has to speak through a medium. He can’t access his magic, nor can he interact directly with mortals. The character has to adapt to new circumstances and change the way he investigates this case. As the author, Jim Butcher has been writing Harry Dresden pretty much the same for the past 12 books. There’s a rhythm and set ways that Harry responds to stimuli. To abruptly change these things while still keeping the story true to its roots is impressive.

That being said, I didn’t like it. I don’t adjust well to the basis of a story suddenly being changed. It happens a lot in the TV shows I watch too, especially when they introduce time travel. Suddenly the characters you fell in love with are acting completely different, and it becomes hard to reconcile in your mind. The same is true for characters in books. I love Harry Dresden, and to suddenly see him portrayed so differently has been difficult for me to deal with.

Like any good reader, I’ve soldiered on, and I only have about 100 pages left. The book has grown on me, but it’ll never be one of my favorites in the series. Harry was finally able to interact with his friends, the other characters I’ve grown fond of, and those relationships are comforting to see. He also discovered how to access his magic, which seems to make him more whole and allows him to act more like I’m used to him acting.

I’m eagerly anticipating the end of the book. See, I don’t believe that Harry is actually dead. I think Harry’s starting to believe it too. There are two more books that I know of after this one, so I think Jim Butcher is going to bring Harry back to life, which will make a terrific resolution and settle my mind. I’d much prefer to continue reading about Harry the wizard than Harry the ghost.

What about you? Does it bother you when the basis of a character is suddenly changed? Let me know in the comments!

Steelheart

So, I just finished Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart, the first book in his young adult The Reckoners trilogy (spoilers). I’ll admit, I was a bit leery about this series. Last year I read his Mistborn trilogy, and while I enjoyed it, there were a few aspects that I really didn’t like. He begins that series by plunging into a fictional world without telling the reader what any of the rules are. It was difficult to follow. Once I finally understood, I had a blast reading it. Then it ended with theistic elements that I wasn’t comfortable with, which left kind of a bad taste in my mouth for the whole experience.

Hence, my hesitation in this new series. There are some major differences this time around, though. First off, it’s set in a world that I can understand. It takes place in a futuristic Chicago, and what happened to the city is explained quickly and succinctly. The protagonist explains what happened when Calamity came, and the superhumans called Epics that decided to take over the world. It’s a good introduction, and allows the reader to accept and understand the details that follow.

One thing Brandon Sanderson does well is create his own lingo, especially for curses and epithets. These are simply thrown in, and it’s up to the reader to guess at the interpretation. In my own writing I struggle to come up with unique names and phrases, and I’m impressed and a little jealous that he does it so well.

I did struggle to connect with his protagonist, however. David is a young man consumed by the death of his father and driven to seek revenge against the Epic that killed him. He spends a whole decade on his research and planning, with no thought to other interests or his future or even girls. That’s something I simply can’t identify with.

I was intrigued by the character of Megan, though. She’s introduced as the tough-as-nails love interest that comes sweeping into David’s life, and it would be easy to box her into that corner. But she’s written with intense complexity and lot of mystery, and I have a feeling that she’ll have a major role to play in book 2: Firefight.

Keep tuning in.