A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 95: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 36

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The next chapter, “The Wit and the Sword,” opens with a gloss of the history between the Six Duchies and the Out Islands, naming the leader of the Forging Red-Ship Raiders: Kebal Rawbread. It moves into Verity’s refusal of Fitz’s assistance in carving the dragon; Verity knows Fitz does not know what he offers and refuses him on those grounds. A following exchange leaves Fitz ashamed as Verity and Kettle leave off work for the day.

That’ll sting.
drawing 4 from Fitz and Fool coloring book by AlexBerkley on DeviantArt, here, and used for commentary

As Fitz checks up on the rest of the party, he finds himself drawn to check in on Molly and Burrich through the Skill. He finds them in the midst of an attack, and while Burrich defends them as adeptly as could be hoped, he is one man against many. Molly, however, uses her knowledge of bees and their ways to drive off the attackers in fear, saving Burrich and Nettle. Verity pulls Fitz away from the unintended Skilling with more words of caution.

The next morning sees Fitz and the Fool confer before they, Nighteyes, and Kettricken go out into the surrounding woods to gather supplies. When they return with fish and firewood, they find that Verity and Kettle have made progress on the dragon, and Verity summons Fitz to him to begin a task. He is to return through the standing stones–Skill-pillars–to the garden where the other carved dragons rest, there to attempt to rouse them.

Fitz goes, and he finds that the dragons seem more to have alighted where they rest than to have been carved in place. While he is about that work, he spies some of Regal’s forces and realizes his peril and Verity’s. Fitz makes to eliminate the immediate peril, setting a trap for the soldiers that have come. One falls to his machinations, and another to a suddenly arrived Verity, who accepts the surrender of the third, tasking him to herald is imminent return. The soldier, Tag, flees on the errand, and Fitz and Verity return to the quarry.

There are another few instances of deus ex machina in the chapter, both occasioned by Verity–his emergence from the Skill-pillar and his resharpening of his sword. The latter, at least, receives some lampshading in Verity’s comment that he “should have known [he] could do that,” so it does not rankle as much as might otherwise be expected, even aside from the issues about the device noted in the previous entry in this series.

Perhaps more important is the reconnection to the greater narrative milieu the chapter presents. Much of the discourse of Hobb’s novels hinges on foreshadowing and precognition, and both the names Kebal Rawbread and Tag, son of Reaver, first noted in the present chapter, factor into future novels in the series. It might be remarked, somewhat cynically but not without merit, that Hobb is setting up for sequels to a trilogy that should be bounded and contained (and the Farseer trilogy does work well as an isolated thing), but it is something that makes sense within the greater context of the narrative milieu.

And it is good to have more to read.

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A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 94: Assassin’s Quest, Chapter 35

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The chapter that follows, “Kettle’s Secrets,” begins by commenting briefly on the Witness Stones outside Buckkeep Castle. It moves thence into Verity’s return to work; Fitz and the Fool return to the statue of the girl on the dragon. It registers oddly to Fitz’s Wit, and the Fool touches the statue with his Skill-impressed fingertips. It goes badly for him, and Kettle rebukes them both harshly when she arrives there shortly afterwards. When Fitz rebukes her, in turn, Kettle demurs slightly.

He’s got the touch; he’s got the power…
Silver Fingers by AlexBerkley on DeviantArt, here, and used for commentary.

After Fitz tends to the Fool, he reports to Verity and Kettricken, who sits beside him while he continues to scrape at the statue he has made. As Fitz reports, Verity leaves off his work and resumes more of himself, which appears to hearten Kettricken, in turn. The rest of the group joins them as Fitz continues his account, and Verity notes, somewhat absently, that Regal listens through the Fool.

Fitz pleads with Verity for aid in the wake of the revelation; Verity denies it as irrelevant and reaffirms his need to complete the dragon alone. Kettle argues against the stance, noting that dragon-making has been collaborative in the past. She also declares her true self and circumstances, to some disbelief. Verity directs Fitz to assist Kettle, and he attempts it unsuccessfully.

The Fool joins the two, putting his Skill-stained flesh to the task. In a glorious communion that takes in Fitz, the Fool, Nighteyes, and Kettle–who has resumed her former name of Kestrel–Fitz helps her to free herself from the punishment that has been imposed upon her. In the wake of it, Kestrel aids Verity’s work, and Fitz and the Fool confer. Fitz purposes to join his king in the work.

Of particular note in the present chapter is the revelation of the titular Kettle’s secrets. While Hobb does do much to foreshadow that the old woman knows much, the specifics of the reading do threaten to come off as something of a deus ex machina, which can easily be taken as an annoyance by readers. Of course, the Elderlings novels partake heavily of the Tolkienian fantasy tradition, even if other antecedents work more strongly in them, and so they partake of the medieval European. As such, they fall under a rubric about which I have written before, one that admits of a tradition that readily invokes such a device. And while the direct comparison between a novel of some heft and episodes of a children’s cartoon may be a bit of a stretch, that does not mean the underlying idea is a bad one. Namely, although Hobb’s Elderlings novels do not operate in an analogue of medieval Europe, they emerge from and participate in a tradition that showed up abundantly during that period–as Douglas A. Anderson points out in Tales before Tolkien and that many others have pointed out at length and eloquently–so that the presence of something like a deus ex machina is not a reason to take on a particular literary atheism.

It’s May Day!
I’m not in distress;
Help me keep it that way!