Royal Assassin is the second book in the Farseer trilogy written by Robin Hobb. A continuation of the plot started in Assassin's Apprentice (which I reviewed a month or so ago), Royal Assassin further highlights the nasty war between the Red Ship raiders and the Six Duchies, the internal politicking and strife amongst successors to the throne, and a whole lot of crap about the main character and his ability to talk to animals that gets really annoying.
As this is my review of the second book of a trilogy, I will not hold back with spoilers. Be forewarned, in case you plan on reading this trilogy at some point.
Fitz = Emo Pansy
While this is not true for the entire novel, I would say that the one thing about this book that I hated the most was Fitz-Chivalry and his obsession with bitching and moaning over anything and everything to happen to him. Common sense is obviously not something that this kid grew up with, which is odd considering his surrogate father, Burrich, whose codename might as well be Burrich Badass, and his surrogate grandfather, Chade, who seems to be the physical embodiment of supremely awesome spy/assassins everywhere. Oh, and we can't forget Verity, who puts almost everyone to shame by being insanely committed to his kingdom when every other person around him doesn't seem to give a shit.
Long story short, I found that the supporting characters were the ones I loved the most in this book. I could excuse Fitz's whining back in the first book when he was a child, but in this book it just bugged me a lot how much time he spent complaining about things that seem extraordinarily easy to fix.
However, Fitz makes a turn toward being more interesting in the latter half/third of the novel when he finally seems to grow a spine and actually takes an active role in the events that surround him. I shivered with glee as he conspired with the Coastal duchies and agreed to take control of the kingdom until Verity's return. Sure, it didn't end well and he screwed that one up too, but it showed impressive backbone. In fact, much of his diplomatic shenanigans in trying to keep the kingdom intact/protect Verity and Kettricken reminded me of Varys from A Game of Thrones, which speaks to the complexity of the political situations that arose in this novel.
Impressive Depth amongst Supporting Characters
I can say definitively that Kettricken is currently my favorite character in the series. A noble princess of a foreign culture thrust into a harsh political situation where princes seek to take advantage of her... I was awestruck by her quiet nobility and absolute determination in the face of some of the nastiest political skulduggery I've ever seen. In Kettricken, Robin Hobb created a woman who you can't help but admire. I loved every scene that she featured in, and felt as heartbroken as her as Verity was unable to realize for the longest time how amazing she was. That depth of feeling is only brought about in me by very well-written characters, so it speaks to the quality of writing in this book that it was able to happen at all.
Molly and Patience also impressed me to this level. Robin Hobb clearly has a gift for writing women, which makes sense given that she is a woman herself. And, on top of this, she manages to make Verity into one of the more complex and interesting rulers that I've seen in fiction. I would say that her only failing with characters is that she can't seem to help but make villains truly villainous. Regal and his coterie are still complete assholes with no redeeming qualities, and that has not yet changed. Depth in villains could help make the story have even more resonance, but maybe I'll need to wait for the third book for that.
In the end, I did love this book. For a story as detailed as this one, it has continued to hold my interest. The only parts that I disliked (at first) were the scenes expanding on Fitz's use of the "Wit" power which allows him to bond with animals. I've never felt that the Wit is something that has truly fit in with the overall story, so whenever Fitz would go off to dick around with his wolf, I would get irritated and impatient for him to return to Buckkeep where the real action was happening. It was only when the wolf, Nighteyes, actually got involved in the action that I began to forgive and become more tolerant of this ("WE ARE PACK!"). By the end of the story, I was totally okay with Nighteyes, and I look forward to seeing more of him in the final book of the trilogy.
One thing that has been bugging me though is that I really hope that Robin Hobb explains Regal's motivations a bit more. He has to be a complete and total idiot to intentionally abandon the Coastal Duchies like he has without some yet unrevealed plan; it makes zero sense to do such a thing what with the enormous threat of the Red Ships out there. I'm hoping that Hobb goes into this in the next book. I'm hoping that there is some gambit that I'm unaware of here and I'm hoping that it isn't complete idiocy that is making Regal do the things he is doing. If it is idiocy and if he doesn't have some sort of hidden motivation to everything he has done thus far, then I'd be willing to point to him as being the worst villain ever. We'll see about this.
But, in the end, I would still highly recommend this trilogy to anyone interested by a tale of political intrigue and incredibly detailed characters all set within a fantasy setting. These books are fantastic and well worth checking out if you are.