The main character in these books is Fitz. A nameless boy with no memories of the time before his mother gave him up, Fitz is brought up in the stables of Buckkeep, a coastal fortress, by stablemaster, Burrich, until he’s old enough to realize that he’s a royal bastard. He’s then taken into the main castle to learn court behaviour and, later, the role of a court assassin under the mysterious Chade. Fitz, it turns out, is the illegitimate son of the king-in-waiting, Chivalry, who has abdicated his position because of this bastard son and disappeared. His successor is Verity, a prince very powerful in the ‘Skill’ - a kind of magic that he has to use to try to prevent the Red Ship raiders from decimating the country’s coastline and ‘forging’ (rendering souless) the inhabitants. There is another brother, Regal, with a lust for power and a willingness to do anything to gain it and it is Fitz’s battle to stop this happening, and to help Verity with the war, which take up the majority of the first two books, Assassin’s Apprentice and Royal Assassin.
Assassin’s Quest picks up the story at the point where Verity has been gone for about a year. He set off to find a mysterious race called The Elderlings, to gain their assistance with the Red Ships, and has not returned. Regal has proclaimed himself king and is allowing the Red Ships to wreak havoc along the coast having moved himself and his court well inland to safety. Fitz first has to rehabilitate himself after a traumatic incident and then sets off to find Verity and The Elderlings. It’s a very long journey and most of the book revolves around his travels, incidents along the way, new characters he meets - and old ones as the enigmatic ‘Fool’ re-enters the fray. And more than that I’m not going to say as it would involve serious spoilers.
To tell the truth, I don’t believe I personally can do justice to these books. I’m going to stick my neck right out though and say that this series is one the best fantasy series out there and that Robin Hobb is a writer of the first calibre. As you can tell from my ham-fisted attempt at a review, the plotlines that run through the books are complex. There are twists and turns galore, political and court intrigue, and I would add that this is not a ‘fun’ or ‘light’ read and is definitely for adults, not children. Many dreadful things happen to all of the characters and there are readers who might find it all a bit much. I myself like humour and ‘some’ lightness in my reading but there isn’t a lot to be had in this series. Truthfully, if I knew why none of this mattered one iota to me, I’d say so. I think, to be honest, that it all boils down to the quality of the story-telling.
Assassin’s Quest is 830 pages long and I read it in precisely one week. That’s fast for me, as I'm a slow reader, and the way I did it was to aim to read about 100 pages a day. Apart from on busy days, this was not diffcult or a hardship and I did it easily. Of course, it does help that Robin Hobb is a ‘page turner’ kind of author and once you get started it’s hard to stop. There are two more series in this universe. After the ‘Farseer’ trilogy come the three ‘Liveship Traders’ books and then the ‘Tawny Man’ trilogy. The ‘Liveship Traders’ series is set in the same world and country but with none of the same characters. The ‘Tawny Man’ books carry on with the story of Fitz and The Fool, so you could skip the middle series but most people suggest that you really shouldn’t. And I don’t plan to. And nor do I intend to wait another two years before I get back to reading Robin Hobb.