The novel opens with a prologue titled “The Unremembered,” in which Fitz muses about the need for purpose and the purposes of his own writing–the framing device of the trilogy of Farseer novels. It serves both to document the history of the Six Duchies as a whole and to distract him from the pangs of lingering addiction, both to the Skill and to the chemicals used to combat the aftereffects of indulging in the Skill.
Fitz moves on to relate, in brief, his recollections of the events at the end of the previous novel, those of his torture and death. They beset him in dreams and waking. So does the lack of connection to his former life; having died to the world, he cannot make contact again with those he had known before. This includes the Patience and Lacey who tended his corpse and, alone, mourned him.
Fitz also notes the strain of his regard for Burrich and Chade, who exhumed him and forced him to live again. They returned him to life and humanity, but they also returned him to the burdens of obligation; not even the end of his life occasioned the end of his service to the Six Duchies.
That last is a strange idea and a compelling one. Typically, debts and vows end with the death of the one who has incurred them or sworn them. This is the case with the student loan debt that plagues me and many, many others in the United States, and it is the case with marriage vows, as traditionally framed in US English. It is also true in Hobb’s fantasy antecedents; Pippin’s vow to Denethor in Lord of the Rings (about which my friend, Luke Shelton, could say more and more eloquently) stands out as perhaps the easiest example to find.
When they do not, when they pass beyond the end of a life, they usually devolve to the obligated’s next of kin. They do not, in such cases, return to the one who incurs the obligation; indeed, dying is usually considered to be the discharge of such, at least on the individual level. For Fitz, then, to be called back from a death he incurred in service to the Farseers, only to be put back to the service of those same Farseers, seems cruel. It seems cruel even for one such as he, whose work as an assassin would seem to invite disdain and opprobrium. And though I know how matters turn out–there’s a reason it’s a reread–I still find myself wondering how much worse it can get for Fitz.
There’s also something to be made of the connection between Skill and addiction, and I ought to be able to do more of that making, given where I work. I have the sensation, though, that doing it will take more space than I can give it here–and I am trying to leave academe further behind me…