“Fool’s Errand” by Robin Hobb

It was like visiting an old friend, one I hadn’t seen in a long time. I didn’t realize how much I missed Fitz’s narration until I started Fool’s Errand. I was immediately hooked and so happy to have returned to Fitz and his companion Nighteyes.

Before I get started on this review, let me warn you that if you have not read Hobb’s Farseer trilogy or Liveship Traders trilogy, you will be spoiled for both in the summary portion below. And since it was hard to discuss this book without giving away spoilers, I didn’t bother taking them out of the “My Thoughts” section since I wanted to be specific about some things.

If you are curious about this fantasy trilogy (Fool’s Errand is the first novel in the Tawney Man trilogy), I highly recommend it to you. The trilogies I mentioned above are all part of a larger series called the Realm of the Elderlings series, so I recommend you start with the first set of books (the Farseer trilogy) and work your way through the trilogies if they interest you. I enjoyed them (of course since I’m now on third set of books) and have been buddy reading them with Emily from Embuhlee liest since 2016, I think, and we plan to continue with them through this year. But here’s what Fool’s Errand is all about.

Quick summary: (some spoilers for Farseer trilogy and Liveship Traders trilogy)

Fool’s Errand picks up some years after the events in the Farseer trilogy and the Liveship Traders trilogy. Fitz is now 35 years old, goes by the name Tom Badgerlock, and has become a recluse with an aging Nighteyes at his side who’s not as nimble as he once was. Both (well, mostly Fitz) have taken a break from the life they lived in service to the realm and have secluded themselves from it. But the past has caught up with them in the form of Chade, who is visiting them when the novel opens to solicit Fitz’s help and experience with the Skill.

Prince Dutiful is in need of someone to teach him the Skill and, since Fitz had killed all the previous experienced Skill users, he’s the most likely candidate to teach the prince. But Fitz isn’t confident about his Skilling abilities and isn’t enthused to return to the castle, so he turns down Chade’s offer. Later Fitz is visited by Starling, who brings news of the Old Blood, the Witted folk. We also are introduced to Fitz’s boy, who was often referred to in the Farseer books. Hap, as he’s called (short for Mishap), is an orphan Starling had found and left with Fitz. In time, Fitz grew to regard the boy as a son and throughout this book, we realize how much Fitz cares for him. (I didn’t get a sense of that in the Farseer books, but those were about the past. These are about the present.)

There are many hints that Fitz and Nighteyes’s situation will change and that becomes more apparent when the Fool visits. The Fool not only brings along the change hinted at, but also collides two stories that, until then, seemed separate — the Farseer trilogy and the Liveship Traders trilogy. The two catch up. Fitz tells the Fool all that happened to him after the adventures in Assassin’s Quest, most notably that he got some training in the Wit and found out what happened to Burrich and Molly, and the Fool tells Fitz all that happened in the Liveship Traders books and after, but I don’t think Fitz believed him. (Dragons? Pah!)

The Fool eventually leaves, but then Fitz receives a missive from Buckkeep stating an emergency with which his helped is needed. He rides off for the castle leaving Nighteyes and Hap to follow after in a cart. At the castle, he learns that Dutiful is probably kidnapped and that it’s probably by the Piebalds, a section of the Old Bloods that has risen up in reaction to the persecution of Witted folk (a practice left over from Prince Regal’s reign). Fitz agrees to help with all that and dons a disguise as the Fool’s manservant, which he plans to act as while at court so no one will realize that he is the Witted Fitz come back from the dead.

Though all the catching up in these parts wasn’t slow, the story really takes off here when Fitz disguised as manservant Tom Badgerlock goes off on an adventure with the Fool disguised as a wealthy noble/merchant called Lord Golden and are accompanied by Laurel, Queen Kettricken’s huntswoman. On their adventure to rescue the prince, Fitz and the Fool realize how much Forging (which occurred in the Farseer books) has affected the people and how much enmity the people have toward Witted folk. We also learn a lot about the Wit and the Skill and even a bit about who/what the Fool is. (Goodreads)

My thoughts: (spoilers!!!)

I enjoyed this one and I loved it too. I’m so glad to have returned to Fitz’s voice and Hobb’s writing in this book! I didn’t realize how much I didn’t like the writing in the Liveship Traders books until I got back to Fitz in this one. Not that I didn’t enjoy the Liveship Traders books, but some parts felt like a chore to read, especially those parts from Wintrow’s perspective in the first book. If it wasn’t for my buddy-read with Emily, I probably would have given up on those books. The writing just felt overworked in some parts. But when it’s from Fitz’s perspective, it’s smooth and I love it!

As you can see from my summary above, much of this book is spent catching up with characters and being updated on how much they have developed during times when we readers aren’t privy to their adventures. I’d say about the first 200 pages or so are spent doing this, which makes the plot stall, but I think it’s worth it. I wasn’t bored reading these recollections on adventures and I think the plot stalling is important because our protagonist, Fitz, is indecisive about what he wants to do with his life. The stalling time is needed for him to realize he is not as old and inept as he thinks he and Nighteyes are.

This stalling and recollection also shows us how much certain characters and Fitz’s relationship with them have changed. We see that Chade has gotten old but is still sharp as a tack, and that he still cares deeply for Fitz, but Fitz’s arduous service to the realm has made him wary of Chade. With Starling, what was suspected in Assassin’s Quest is realized in Fool’s Errand and we learn that Fitz and Starling have entered into a romantic relationship. They’re “buddies” and supposedly have sex “with no strings attached” (that’s the impression I got) whenever Starling drops by for a visit. But in these first 200 pages when she visits, we learn that she hasn’t been honest with Fitz. Starling had been married for some time and was cheating on her husband with Fitz, which hurts Fitz because he has a high sense of honor.

I have to go off on a tangent here to discuss this because I found it all quite interesting. The first interesting bit is how Hap reacts to this revelation. It was he who learned Starling’s secret, which he found so devastating because of how he was raised by Fitz that he questioned all Fitz had taught him. Hap thought Fitz knew about Starling’s husband and thus felt deceived by Fitz, his parent who had instilled in him his morals and sense of honor but seems to disregard them. That’s quite distressing and is enough to make anyone wonder if the foundation of their beliefs is a big lie.

I don’t like Starling. Never had, even when she first entered the story, in Assassin’s Quest, I didn’t like her because she wasn’t nice to the Fool. But despite that, I really don’t like the change in how she’s referred to after we learn she has been unfaithful. After Fitz is informed that Starling is married and has been so for much of their affair, Nighteyes is said to have referred to her as “the howling bitch” in Fitz’s reflection on how Starling found him after he’d disappeared following the adventures in Assassin’s Quest.

It’s debatable whether or not this was said in jest by Nighteyes because a female wolf is sometimes referred to as a bitch so maybe he calls all females that, but Nighteyes (or the author) could have used “she-wolf” instead. But I’m inclined to believe that “bitch” is used by Nighteyes as a derogatory term here because Nighteyes does not respect or like Starling, so he would not have referred to her as a wolf in any way. Also, considering that Fitz feels deceived, dishonored, and used by Starling when he began this reflection on the past and often shares thoughts with Nighteyes to the point where they sometimes seem to have the same thoughts (and that the book is told entirely from Fitz’s perspective), I believe the use of the derogatory term “bitch” here is Fitz’s thought being attributed to Nighteyes to provide some emphasis on how low a regard Fitz has for Starling, especially since that reference is a sort of confirmation for Fitz, the full sentence being:

“ ‘The howling bitch,’ Nighteyes confirmed for me.”

Further, “the howling she-wolf” wouldn’t work because it would carry a different tone, probably more respect and urgency, which wouldn’t work in this part of the story. Calling Starling “the howling bitch” refers also to the fact that Starling is a minstrel and at the same time pokes fun at her for it because saying that a singer is “howling” rather than “singing” gives the impression that the singer isn’t very good. I think it’s petty of Nighteyes and Fitz for referring to Starling that way because they feel hurt, though I don’t entirely fault them for it; and I think it’s clever of Hobb to include such a phrase that can be interpreted a number of ways.

Still, I really don’t like Starling and dislike her even more now because she tried to manipulate Hap to prevent him from telling Fitz the truth, which made it very obvious how little she cares for either of them. Though I don’t agree with what Starling did, I do like the twist here that Fitz is placed in a position that women usually occupy in fiction, being cheated on; and I sort of admire how Starling leads her life. She’s in charge: She does what she wants, goes where she wants, and has sex with whomever she wants.

“For I am ever the Fool to your Fitz.”

But back to what I was saying before about the visits revealing stuff about the characters and their relationships. After Starling came the Fool, Fitz’s true love. Yep, I’m convinced of that. A hedgewitch/fortune-teller lady visited Fitz at his hut and basically said summin like “dude, your true love comes and goes like the wind” (well, not really like that but sorta like it) and that totally meant the Fool. They are deeply connected and understand each other on levels that others can’t even fathom.

But seriously, I loved it when the Fool arrives. The reaction of the two, Fitz & the Fool, is almost how I felt when I started reading from Fitz’s perspective again. There’s a sense of happiness mixed with longing and hope when one reunites with a great friend one hasn’t seen in a long time. Happiness because you’re glad to see them and longing and hope because you miss the times you shared together and hope to connect that deeply again. Though not much happens while the Fool visits Fitz, this is one of my favorite parts of the book because them living together for a time seems effortless and I like how they move with and around each other. Even Nighteyes is included in Fitz & the Fool’s unity, and the Fool is included in Nighteyes and Fitz’s pack.

There’s lots more I want to discuss, but this review is already very long so I’ll just do quick bullet points for everything else I want to point out:

“Your life is the wedge I use to make the future jump from its rut.”

  • The Fool is the “White Prophet” and Fitz is his “Catalyst: This bit of the series is most interesting to me and I wonder how such roles will further affect the Six Duchies and the outlying lands. I hope this trilogy is all about this mythology/folklore/belief of the world because I can’t wait to learn more, especially since there’s another individual referring to themselves as the White Prophet. I wonder if she looks like the Fool.
  • We get some backstory on the Fool: It was appreciated. We aren’t told where he’s from exactly, but we learn more about his younger days and realize that he is older than Fitz (which was probably mentioned in the Farseer books). I also like that Fool knows he looks great now that he’s golden and he flaunts it by wearing clothing that make him look even more attractive and even designs his quarters at the castle to set off his looks. Those parts were funny.
  • We learn more about the Wit and the Skill as Fitz does: This book is about the Wit and the Skill as much as it is about finding Prince Dutiful. We realize that Fitz is strong in both but lacks the wealth of knowledge needed to master them. This is another reason why I love this book. We get a lot of information both, and now I’m convinced that aptitude in both is needed to deal with dragons, if dragons can become companions to humans.
  • Fitz’s name totally fits him: In this world, most folks, usually nobles, are given a name that isn’t only used as their name but also functions as a description of who that person is. Fitz’s father, Chivalry, was chivalrous and noble despite having a bastard. Fitz’s grandfather, Shrewd, was clever at the height of his power and at moments when his health declined. And Fitz’s stepmother Lady Patience proved in the Farseer books that her name fits her. I say all that to show that Fitz’s name “Fitz,” which is usually given to a bastard son, fits his name. Being a bastard was, and in some cases still is, a chip on Fitz’s shoulder. It’s a label and identity Fitz will always carry with him, even as Tom Badgerlock, and this identity also affects his magics and how he connects with Nighteyes because he uses a bastardized version of the magics sometimes in which both the Wit and the Skill are used together. I think that’s why he connects so deeply with his animal companion more than other Witted folk. However, I don’t think his ability to use both magics and use them together diminishes his ability, but instead makes them stronger.
  • Fitz’s mom is from the Mountain Kingdom: I fucking knew it! 😀
  • Fennel is my new favorite animal companion: His character made me want a cat, which was helped along by Ursula Le Guin’s No Time to Spare, in which she talks about her cat Pard (as in pardner).
  • I can’t believe Fitz had visited Bingtown and had seen the Fool aboard the Paragon, which (YEAHIEE!!) totally knew Amber was the Fool!! 😛
  • Did a dragon save Fitz and Dutiful using Skill? I think a dragon saved Fitz and Dutiful using Skill. Either a dragon or a (probably) omnipresent, formless entity that can do powerful stuff using only its mind. …I think it was a dragon, right?
  • I actually found Fitz’s reaction to his adopted son, Hap, who he raised, and his biological son, Dutiful, who he’s unfamiliar with very interesting and would love to talk loads about it but, eh, my fingers are tired of typing. However, I’ll just say the moments when he refers to each boy as his son (as in he uses the word “son”) are poignant.
  • Nighteyes!!! Nighteyes! Nighteyes? Nighteyes. Nighteyes…
    • I almost cried.
  • Predictions and suppositions: Starling is Chade’s new apprentice. Who is the Outislander princess? (Okay, no predictions for that because I have no clue.)

Wow! That’s long.

I’m done.

Overall: ★★★★☆

For some reason, I gave it 4 stars instead of 5. I don’t know why. After reviewing it, I now think it’s a 5-star read. I’d bump it up, but if I do so, I’ll have to change that stat here and on my reading spreadsheet for last year and on several posts about my reading progress last year and on Goodreads and on the program I use to keep track of my books… I’m lazy and tired now so it’s gonna stay at 4 stars. Just know it’s a great story, you should read it, and it’s worth 5 stars.

Buy | Borrow | Bypass

Because if you started with the Farseer books and made it to these, you might as well commit to them all and purchase these too. Plus, it’s a good read and worth owning.

Quotes from the book:

“Silence can ask all the questions, where the tongue is prone only to ask the wrong one.”

“In the space of a sundown, you show me the wide world from a horse’s back, and the soul of the world within my own walls.”

“The truth, I discovered, is a tree that grows as a man gains access to experience. A child sees the acorn of his daily life, but a man looks back on the oak.”

“Half of any trade is understanding the vocabulary and idiom that the practitioners use.”

“Cruelty is a skill taught not only by example but by experience of it.”

“History is no more fixed and dead than the future. The past is no further away than the last breath you took.”

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14 thoughts on ““Fool’s Errand” by Robin Hobb

  1. Pingback: 2017 Reading Wrap-Up: Fourth Quarter | Zezee with Books

  2. Pingback: Me In Book Characters Tag! – the orang-utan librarian

  3. Amazing review!! So thorough! Yeah I really wasn’t keen on Starling either. Hmm that’s interesting about the howling bitch part- I definitely didn’t pick up on that 😉 I totally get what you mean about the fool being fitz’s true love though.

    Like

  4. I loved your detailed, passionate review. Robin Hobb is one of my favourite authors and I’ve read the complete series to date. I love all her books, just some more than others and Fitz is one of my alltime favourite characters:)

    Like

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