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The first chapter in the novel, “Gravebirth,” opens with comments about slavery in the Six Duchies’ neighboring nation of Chalced and a reported story Fitz asserts Burrich latched onto as a way to save him from the dungeons. It moves into Fitz’s nascent return to humanity from the experiences of death and wolfhood. It is not an easy transition for him–or for Burrich, who is haltingly coaching his return.
Amid the recovery, Fitz’s seizures continue. Chade checks in on him and Burrich from time to time, carrying news and occasional supplies. Burrich also goes out at odd times, returning with what Fitz identifies as a feminine smell. Old traumas continue to resurface for Fitz, and his account grows more focused and lucid as memories of his life before death reassert themselves. And amid some of Chade’s efforts to restore Fitz, Verity makes contact through the Skill, announcing that he yet lives. Fitz flees after delivering the message.
In the wake of the revelation, Fitz’s old personality and memories reassert themselves fully. He and Burrich confer about the events leading up to Fitz’s death and Regal’s usurpation of power. The various traumas continue to tell upon Fitz, as well, and Burrich grows restive in his inability to act effectively and in his enforced withdrawal from alcohol. Chade is overjoyed to see Fitz restored, though, even if Fitz is far from pleased at having been restored to life.
The shape of the chapter reminds me of the earlier parts of Daniel Keyes’s “Flowers for Algernon,” which I read in short story form and which has remained with me for years. The increasing lucidity and focus of Fitz’s narration as he rehearses his return from a semi-feral state to something near the sharp-minded young man he had been seems to me to work along the same lines as Charlie Gordon’s experience of enhancement before it begins to falter. Even knowing what comes, I find myself recalling that Hobb has no problems killing her protagonist (though, clearly, death does not necessarily stick in the Six Duchies), and I tremble at the thought that Fitz will also suffer again.
The final line of the chapter–“I was kind to the old man. I did not tell him that they had” done something worse to him than let him die–is telling. It seems to follow an earlier comment of mine, that Hobb subverts what would normally be an event worth celebrating. Chade is certainly happy to have Fitz back, and Burrich seems to be; both reactions seem to proceed from love or what might be described as love, even if, as I think on it now, they seem more selfish than that. It is only that they evidently believed Fitz to be alive as they had understood being alive–not in sharing a body with a bonded soul, which has to be a different thing, somehow–that it is not an utterly horrifying tragedy. If it is not.
I am not a clever enough theologian to untangle all the resonances that apply here, nor yet a literary scholar. Clearly. But I can at least see the knots in the tapestry, and I can wonder what picking at them would reveal.
3 thoughts on “A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 60: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 1”
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[…] instability at large in the Six Duchies, noting that Dutiful’s absence or transformation into the kind of being Fitz was after returning from death would end the […]