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Fool's Fate: book three of The Tawny Man

by Robin Hobb

(Voyager, £12.99, 805 pages, trade paperback; 2004.)

Review by Simeon Shoul

The final book of the Tawny Man trilogy, and the last cover scanvolume in the nine-book sequence of the Farseers, is a long awaited and richly rewarding climax to one of the landmark fantasies of the last decade.

As the book opens, FitzChivalry Farseer, bastard scion of the ruling family of the Six Duchies, braces himself to accompany Prince Dutiful to the Outislands, to help him win the hand of the Princess Elliana by slaying the Dragon Icefyre. Things, of course, are not quite as simple as that. There are secrets buried behind Elliana's demand for Icefyre's head, and unexpected oppositions among the Outisland clans. Then again, Fitz also has to keep control of the rest of his life and try to keep a lid on the tangled mess of secrets that compose his past.

His relationships with his daughter Nettle, and her half-brother Swift, son of Fitz's old mentor Burrich, each of whom has their own special magic to contend with, are difficult enough. But then he has to manage the temperamental complaints of the magical half-wit, Thick, the machinations of the old assassin, Chade, the ongoing rumbles of dissent swirling around Queen Kettricken's acceptance of the previously despised Old Blood magicians, and last but not least, try to keep his childhood friend, The Fool, from accompanying the Prince's party.

In a book that echoes with past events and old relationships, it is the deep, intricate, painful dance between Fitz and the Fool that constitutes its heart. There's room for more than one passion in this story, but this is the central one. The Fool, who has been the hidden spur to so much of the action, is approaching his moment of finality. Prophetic and driven, he has long foreseen his own death, and now goes to meet it, despite everything Fitz can do to hold him back.

This is a book that has everything you want in a Fantasy novel. It has the spectacle and grandeur of challenging travel and wild landscapes. It has the intrigue of novel cultures and hidden conspiracies. It has deep mysteries and long-concealed motives. It has sharp, rousing fights, and old, malicious evils. It also has painful departures, heroism and final, deeply deserved rewards and restitutions. It is beautifully written, and perfectly paced. At the end all the old secrets have been revealed, but not forced, and the wait has been well worth it.

There are very few other writers in the genre who can match Hobb for such fine-tuned, meticulously plotted, satisfying, epic fantasy. Kate Elliot is perhaps her only peer. (Robert Jordan is an also-ran by comparison; Feist? Don't talk to me about Feist!) Over a nine-volume sequence, naturally enough, there have been slower books, and uneven patches, but the whole adds up to a striking piece of work, and this final instalment is riveting.

In sum? First rate work, from one of the best writers of our genre and our day.

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