The next chapter, “The Skill Road,” begins with a brief musing on the source of magic before turning to the slow progress of Kettricken’s party as it tries to reach Verity. Despite a lack of sign, they press on until Nighteyes reports a road to Fitz through the Wit. Nighteyes mislikes the road, and Fitz finds himself strangely reluctant to step upon it; there is something clearly uncanny about it.
When Fitz does take to the road, despite Nighteyes’s warnings, he finds himself drifting amid the Skill, proceeding slowly enough for the elderly Kettle to keep up with him. She tries to retain his attention, not entirely successfully, and she objects strenuously when the party thinks to make camp in the long-abandoned path. The objection is heeded, and the group camps off of the road–but the road continues to command Fitz’s attention, distracting him even from his bond with Nighteyes. It is evidently made with the Skill, and it tells upon Fitz more than upon all the rest of the party.
Conversation reveals that Kettle knows more than she tells, and the party adjusts its routine as a storm encompasses them. The Skill continues to encompass Fitz, and he sees visions of those he loves–focusing on Molly and Burrich most. Verity intercedes with him, then, forcing him back to himself and leaving him despondent.
I admit to having a bit of trouble reading the chapter as I reread it for this write-up. I found my own attention drifting away from the page. Whether that is a result of overly affective reading or outside concerns producing distractions is not clear–but the confusion I felt could well mark a bit of particularly good writing amid the consistently fine work in the novel. Fitz is distracted, and it is Fitz’s perspective that drives the novel, so leading the reader into the same kind of confusion that besets Fitz as he confronts, unexpectedly, something made of and seething with the power with which he has struggled for some time is a good move to make.
That has been one of the things I have prized about Hobb’s writing since I began reading it some decades ago, now. (It remains strange to me to be able to say such a thing honestly. I guess I am not yet quite as old as I often feel.) I have been able to lose myself in Hobb’s writing no few times, and, even now, I can be swept up in it as surely as if it were a Skill-road. I may not make the kind of open reference to it that I do to Tolkien or Asimov or Roddenberry’s work, largely because I know it is not as widely known and so not as useful as a means to get a point across, but that does not mean I do not value it, now no less than before.