Royal Assassin – Robin Hobb

Picking up on the rambling on the subject of Assassin’s Apprentice: In Defense of Fitz, Part II.

To reiterate what I said in the “review” of Assassin’s Apprentice: I was shocked during a group read to find that there were several people who took strongly against Fitz. This is part of my argument on his behalf. He’s been a “friend” for some fourteen years, and I’ve always felt strongly that friends should have friends’ backs. It doesn’t always work out that way in real life, but fictional friends have rarely betrayed me as “real” ones have – the least I can do is stick up for Fitz.

Fitz has no pattern for how to build trust other than the blind faith owed to Shrewd or Chade, or (in another way altogether) the dogs Nosy or Smithy. It takes him almost ten years to begin to realize how much he means to Burrich (and vice versa), because he can’t see past Burrich’s gruff unwillingness/inability to show affection, and because of the chasm the Wit has caused between them. Patience isn’t someone who’s easy to get close to; she cares, deeply, but the caring is surrounded by pain and wrapped in a fuzzy cloud of rather desperate flightiness. The Fool has his own agenda; while he’s most definitely Fitz’s friend and ally, he isn’t exactly the hey-let’s-go-get-a-pizza kind of friend – and he will, and does, choose Shrewd over anything and everything else, no matter what. Shrewd is another ally, but he is the King, and ill, and can’t show too much favor even if he wants to. Verity is … busy. Kettricken – introduced in the second book – might have been a solid friend, but it would have been dangerous, for both of them. Molly is a girl in love who wants to be Fitz’s be-all and end-all. I don’t really see that Fitz is the one who’s pushed others away…

As for Molly … Fitz knows what he wants. He also knows that it’s pretty impossible. And he decides he and Molly deserve a Happily Ever After, and he tries for it anyway – and when Molly is threatened, and he realizes she could easily be injured, raped, killed as a way to get at him, he has no choice but to back off. She doesn’t understand why duty comes first; he can’t enunciate it any better than he already has – and even if he could, she still wouldn’t understand why she doesn’t come first for him as he does for her – and that’s another huge obstacle.

Here be spoilers.

A complaint someone had during the group read was that he was warned six ways from Sunday, and “he eats what Kettricken gives him, anyway.” And, as with other criticisms, I don’t think that’s altogether fair. I took, and perhaps he did as well, the warnings he was given to mean that he needed to take every precaution with any food or drink that Regal or one of his minions could possibly have tainted. In the Mountain Kingdom, he had no real way out of the situation; it would have been unspeakably rude not to eat what Kettricken gave him, tantamount to announcing “I am not planning to trust you”. Even if she had handed him a phial marked with a skull and crossbones or its Six Duchies equivalent, he would have had to be pretty careful in finding a way to avoid taking that drink: one can’t offend a) a foreign royal or b) the soon-to-be wife of one’s King-in-Waiting. But it wasn’t even an issue. She was skillful – she carried him along on a gentle wave of friendly chatter, and inserted a “here, taste this” now and then, and he never stood a chance. He was disarmed by her; he never suspected she had any idea who or what he was, and was in a corner.

…She did not hesitate to smile, or become enthused, or stoop to dig in the soil around a plant to show me a particular type of root she was describing. She rubbed the root free of dirt, then sliced a bit with her belt knife from the heart of the tuber to allow me to taste its tang. She showed me certain pungent herbs for seasoning meat and insisted I taste a leaf of each of three varieties, for though the plants were very similar, the flavors were very different. In a way, she was like Patience, without her eccentricity. In another way, she was like Molly, but without the callousness that Molly had been forced to develop to survive. Like Molly, she spoke directly and frankly to me, as if we were equals. I found myself thinking that Verity might find this woman more to his liking than he expected.

So completely disarmed. He is taken by her youth, by her gentleness, by her intelligence; she wins him immediately by talking to him frankly and comfortably as an equal, and he finds himself comparing her favorably to the two most important women in his life (two of the only three, really) – he even finds that in her that is, not to say better than but softer than Molly. (To beat it into the ground a little:) She lulled him, whisked him along, gave him a bit of this and a taste of that, and all in such a way he’d never even consider declining.

That was all on page 305 of my edition. Two pages later she tells him what Regal has told her: “…he said that since the King had made you his poisoner, you seemed content with your lot…” Not that soft, after all. I love that even when he realizes he’s been poisoned he still doesn’t even think of her, but decides it was the honey cakes.

Once again, it’s easy to forget that he’s still – what, 16 (or is it not even 16?) at the end of Apprentice – and a few months older than that in Royal Assassin. Ordinary 15-16-year-olds aren’t generally the most wise and insightful and far-thinking of folk. When he went to Rurisk after Regal’s little chat, Fitz did not make a good move there, no, drinking wine he didn’t carry on his own person – but I think it should be kept in mind that he was under the influence of the Smoke in Regal’s room, and struggling to do as he was ordered, as he must, while still not killing Rurisk, as he couldn’t. Which was probably intentional on Regal’s part – Fitz had no defense against that, and it impaired his judgment. So I cut him a little slack here. He earned it, poor bugger.

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3 Responses to Royal Assassin – Robin Hobb

  1. tmso says:

    Yes, yes, yes! I mean, he was just about falling in love with her! I think that was the author’s intent, his life gave him another lesson in trust – he could trust no one. Oh, my, just thinking of his story brings back tears. Hobb did a great job with him – to hell what other people think. ;)

  2. stewartry says:

    I loved that about the story and the characters – Fitz seemed to feel like “if I can’t have her I’m glad that Verity will”.

    I think what you said is one reason I haven’t gotten around to rereading Assassin’s Quest yet. If the other two were emotional, the third book is gut-wrenching, and I just haven’t been up to it!

  3. Pingback: A Daily Prompt Exercise « Daily Ruminations

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