If you have a surprisingly detailed memory, you’ll recall that when I read Robin Hobb’s Tawny Man trilogy back in aught-six, I noted that she’d made a brilliant trilogy of trilogies; when I subsequently read the Rain Wild Chronicles some years later, I thought that they were enjoyable, but… also kind of unnecessary, the sort of book you write because your fans want a new book in a setting, rather than because it really needed to be written.
So when I went to read Robin Hobb’s Fitz and the Fool trilogy, the latest series in this setting, the question in my mind was whether it’d just be another unnecessary coda, or would actually feel essential.
As it started, it was hard not to think that it’d be the former. I’ve remarked before that Hobb typically starts a new series by subverting the happy ending of the last book, but here… she didn’t do that. She starts off in the happy ending, and lets us inhabit it for a while. We get older versions of characters living a good life, and reflecting on their past and how emo they were as kids. (Which really rings true here, when my main gripe with the original Assassin trilogy was that its first-person narration was way too grim ‘n’ mopey. And of course, it also works because the first book was more than twenty years ago; more time than that has passed for the characters in the book, but it’s still enough for that “long ago when I was young” feeling to feel real to me.)
But of course, things don’t stay happy forever—it wouldn’t be much of a series if they did—and eventually there is plenty of violence (including an amount of rape that seems really shockingly high by modern standards) and an epic fantasy plot ensues.
And so through much this, it still felt enjoyable but unnecessary; there was even a retcon feeling as some old prophecies got “reinterpreted” in a way that reminded me of the David Eddings’ Mallorean—the kind of “yeah, we THOUGHT that the original series was what the prophecies were about, but hold on, turns we have more books we want to write, so now we’re pretty sure they’re about THIS series.” The characters even seem to feel this sense, with one saying at one point, “I’ve gone beyond the end of my life, to a place where I never expected to be.”
But… dang if Hobb doesn’t manage to put it all together by the end. By the time I finished the third book, I wondered how I could have thought that the series was complete before now; this all had to happen, and in a real way, this is the actual end of the story of its protagonists. It circles back and ties together all the previous books (which were already closely related, but now are even moreso) and brings it all to a nice close… while also setting up novels that can easily follow up from this without feeling like they’re dragging things out unnecessarily.
If you’ve been reading Hobb’s books, you’ll want to read these. If you haven’t, I think they’re one of the best hyper-long-form epic fantasies out there—certainly her 16 book series is better than Robert Jordan’s—and if that sounds appealing to you, you should give them a read.