Thoughts on finishing The Tawny Man Trilogy (The Golden Fool and Fool’s Fate)

After reading Fool’s Errand a few months ago, I knew I didn’t want to wait too long before reading the other two books in Robin Hobb’s Tawny Man Trilogy; on the other hand, I didn’t want to read them too quickly because then it would all be over and I wouldn’t have them to look forward to anymore (I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way about long-anticipated books). Once I started reading The Golden Fool, though, I had to keep going until I’d reached the end of the trilogy. I cared too deeply about the characters to abandon them while I read other books.

Before I go any further, I will give my usual advice that if you are new to Robin Hobb, the place to start is the Farseer Trilogy, which begins with Assassin’s Apprentice. After that, you should read The Liveship Traders Trilogy – it’s not completely necessary but I strongly recommend it as it will give you a better understanding of the world Hobb has created – and then move on to Fool’s Errand. If you have not yet read all of those books, you will come across spoilers for them in the rest of this post (it would be impossible for me to avoid them).

First, The Golden Fool. As the middle book in the trilogy, this one is neither as tightly plotted as the first nor as epic as the third. Its main function seems to be to tie up some of the storylines begun in the first book (such as Laudwine and the Piebalds), while setting the scene for the quest that will form the basis of the final book. The foundations of this quest are laid during negotiations for Prince Dutiful’s betrothal to an Outislander princess, the Narcheska Elliania. Dutiful’s mother, Queen Kettricken, intends this marriage to form a lasting alliance between the Six Duchies and the Outislands, but it seems that things aren’t going to go quite as smoothly as she’d hoped. Before the Narcheska will agree to marry the prince, she insists that he will have to prove himself worthy…by bringing her the head of the black dragon Icefyre, who lies in a glacier on a distant ice-covered island.

To help Dutiful prepare for his mission, Fitz – still posing as Tom Badgerlock, servant to the nobleman Lord Golden (the Fool) – reluctantly agrees to take on the role of Skillmaster, tutoring the prince in the Farseer magic known as the Skill. The importance of creating a coterie for Dutiful – a circle of those gifted in the Skill who will offer support and strength to the prince – is clear, but at present Fitz has other things on his mind. His adopted son, Hap, is in love with a girl from Buckkeep Town whose parents strongly disapprove of the match, and Hap risks losing his apprenticeship as a result. Meanwhile, his daughter Nettle, with whom he is linked through the Skill, is being visited in her dreams by a blue dragon; Kettricken and Chade want her brought to the safety of Buckkeep Castle and raised as befits a Farseer heir, but Fitz disagrees…

Worst of all, the friendship between Fitz and the Fool, which has endured for so many years, comes under threat when a delegation from Bingtown arrives. Among them is a certain woman called Jek, who will be remembered by readers of the Liveship Traders, and who seems to be under a misapprehension about the Fool. And this is one of several points in the novel where I was glad I had resisted the temptation to go straight from the Farseer Trilogy to the Tawny Man – this particular scene would have made far less sense otherwise. Even with my understanding of what it was all about, I found this a difficult and uncomfortable scene to read – it’s never nice to see people who care so much about each other hurting each other so badly.

Fool’s Fate picks up the story in the middle of the preparations for Dutiful’s journey to the Outislands where he must hunt down and behead the dragon Icefyre. Along with his old mentor Chade, and the difficult but strongly-Skilled Thick, Fitz is accompanying the prince on his voyage but insists that the Fool, who has predicted his own death on the icy island of Aslevjal, must stay behind. Can the future really be changed as easily as that – or will fate refuse to be defied?

This is the book where the significance of everything we’ve learned in the previous eight novels regarding dragons, Elderlings, White Prophets and Catalysts finally starts to become clear and I found the ‘quest’ element of the novel more compelling than the one in the final Farseer novel, Assassin’s Quest – although, having said that, there are some direct links between the two and, remembering that earlier quest, I enjoyed the brief glimpses we are given of Girl on a Dragon and Verity as Dragon! This is such a visual book too; some of the scenes involving Icefyre, the glaciers of Aslevjal and the Elderling ruins beneath the ice are described so vividly, I almost felt as though I was watching them unfold on film. We also see both the Skill and the Wit being used in new and fascinating ways.

As the final book in the Tawny Man Trilogy and, until the publication of the Fitz and the Fool Trilogy in 2014 (which I still have to look forward to), the final book about Fitz, there are a lot of loose ends to tie up and a lot of ongoing storylines to be resolved. I think whether or not you will be satisfied with these resolutions will depend on how you feel about the characters concerned. Although one of Fitz’s relationships is given a happy ending, it comes at the expense of at least two others – and because I had felt much more closely engaged with the latter two characters than with the former, I found it a very bittersweet conclusion to Fitz’s story.

As usual, coming to the end of one of Robin Hobb’s trilogies has left me feeling bereft. I’m planning to start her Rain Wild Chronicles soon, but I’m wondering where the novella The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince fits in and whether I should maybe read that first.

Fool’s Errand by Robin Hobb

As regular readers of my blog will know, it’s not very often that I read fantasy, yet Robin Hobb’s books have been some of my favourite reads of the last few years. In 2014 I discovered the Farseer Trilogy and then, last year, I moved on to her second trilogy, the Liveship Traders – set in the same world, the Realm of the Elderlings, but in a different part of that world and with different characters and storylines. Fool’s Errand is the first book in yet another trilogy – The Tawny Man – which leaves the liveships behind and returns to the story of FitzChivalry Farseer.

If you haven’t read the Farseer trilogy yet, you really need to do so before starting Fool’s Errand. It’s important to understand Fitz’s background, his relationships with other characters, and the magic and history of the world he inhabits, otherwise I think you’ll be very confused!

Anyway, Fool’s Errand begins fifteen years after the events of Assassin’s Quest, with Fitz living in a remote cottage in the countryside, far away from his former home in Buckkeep, having made the decision to stay out of the politics and intrigues which continue to surround the Farseer family. He has taken the name Tom Badgerlock and is leading a quiet life with his adopted son, Hap, and his wolf Nighteyes, with whom he shares a special bond, as his only companions. Then, unexpectedly, he receives a visit from Chade, his old mentor and instructor in the art of assassination. Chade tries, but fails, to persuade Fitz to return to Buckkeep to teach the magic known as the Skill to the young Prince Dutiful.

This visit is closely followed by another: this time from the Fool, who has matured from the pale boy of fifteen years ago into an elegant young man with golden hair and skin. The two quickly settle back into their old friendship, but even the Fool is unable to convince Fitz to come back with him to Buckkeep. It is only when Fitz receives shocking news regarding Prince Dutiful that he agrees to return to court and offer his assistance. The Prince has disappeared, just days before his betrothal ceremony, and Chade believes that Fitz is the only person who can find him. Did Dutiful run away or was he kidnapped? Could he have become the target of a carefully planned plot? And how is all of this connected with the little hunting-cat the Prince received recently as a gift?

Although I did enjoy the three Liveship Traders novels I read last year, it was wonderful to be reacquainted with Fitz and the other Farseer characters again. I don’t regret having taken the time to read the Liveship Traders, as it means I picked up on a few things in Fool’s Errand – such as the name of the Fool’s horse and a visit to a certain island – which wouldn’t have meant much to me otherwise, but I definitely prefer the world of the Six Duchies. I think this particular novel might even by my favourite by Robin Hobb so far. It feels more tightly plotted than any of the others, with the focus on one mission – to find Prince Dutiful and return him to Buckkeep – and with a slightly smaller cast of characters too, concentrating mainly on the very close relationships Fitz has with the Fool and with Nighteyes. It’s also a very moving book, with one particular scene that made me cry – even though I’d known from the beginning that it was going to happen sooner or later, I still wasn’t prepared for it!

Now that I’ve remembered how much I love reading about Fitz and his friends, I’m sure it won’t be long before I pick up the second book in the trilogy, The Golden Fool.

This is book 10/20 of my 20 Books of Summer.