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The Golden Fool: Book 2 of The Tawny Man

by Robin Hobb

(Voyager, £17.99, 599 pages, hardback, published 7 October 2002, received 4 September 2002. HarperCollins, £11.99, 632 pages, trade paperback, published 3 March 2003.)

The second book of The Tawny Man (and the eighth in Hobb's ongoing Farseer sequence), finds its protagonist, cover scanFitzChivalry Farseer, caught in a mesh of conflicting needs and challenges.

Masquerading as Tom Badgerlock, servant/bodyguard to the flighty noble, Lord Golden, Fitz must find time, energy and wit to mentor young Prince Dutiful in the perilous magic of the Skill, help Councillor Chade thwart the sinister machinations of the lurking Piebalds, scout out and teach other Skill users to aid Prince Dutiful as a Coterie, keep some sort of rein on his wayward foster-son, Hap, and juggle his own relationships with the Hedge Witch, Jinna, and minstrel, Starling.

He is not helped in any of these tasks by the persistent, dreamworld nagging of his distant, highly Skill-talented daughter, Nettle, by the deviously complicated business of the Prince's betrothal to the Outislander princess, Elliania, nor by the recent, crippling loss of his Wit-companion, the Wolf Nighteyes...

Having deployed a plot of many strands, Hobb has a difficult storytelling challenge to perform, keeping a dozen balanced forces and factions and conflicting personalities in perpetual motion around the central figure of Fitz. Furthermore, woven into the ongoing narrative, is Hobb's slow unveiling of answers to long-hidden secrets. We now know much more about the nature of her world, and the great forces working behind the scenes, than we did in the original Assassin trilogy. As these things begin to finally emerge into the light, a certain amount of philosophical baggage has to be hauled out with them and mulled over...

Hobb handles her story with a calm, almost leisurely aplomb, but not without costs in terms of structure and pace. The highpoint of confrontation occurs not near the end of the book, but around the two-thirds mark, and the remainder is essentially build-up and development, preparing the ground for events that will obviously fall in the next novel. It is a rich, highly detailed narrative, dwelling on the intricacies of character, motivation, trust, betrayal, mistaken intentions and foolish words, and all of this is rewarding reading, but sometimes just a touch too slow. There are explosive moments of confrontation to be sure, but the tension is spread a mite thinly.

Nonetheless, though The Golden Fool lacks the tight structure, pace and cleverness of plot of some of the earlier works in the sequence, it can still grip the reader with its action and suspense, and it never fails to be credible in its handling of character. Not Hobb's best, but still very good indeed.

Review by Simeon Shoul.

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