The next chapter, “In the Realm of the Pale Woman,” begins with commentary about the White Prophets before turning to Fitz regaining consciousness in captivity, bound and brought before the Pale Woman. She is described as Fitz and the Fool are presented to her amid her gathered servants, a dragon in the midst of being carved, and the feral figure of Kebal Rawbread. The Pale Woman laughingly explicates his situation and theirs to Fitz before having them separated and taken to individual cells.
Fitz surveys his cell as he is thrown into it, but he is not held there long. Instead, he is conducted to the Pale Woman’s chambers, where she is attended to as he looks on. Reluctantly, he washes and is shaved before sitting to table with her at her bidding, and after the meal, the Pale Woman expounds upon her ideas to him, interleaving her plans with no little inveighing against the Fool. Fitz feels his Skill begin to return among the discourse, and the Pale Woman moves to work her own Skill upon him to seduce him. He resists, however, and attacks her–ineffectively, in the event–when he sees what has been done to the Fool.
Enraged, the Pale Woman has Fitz and the Fool brought to her throne room again, where she sacrifices one of her prisoners to the nascent dragon and to Kebal Rawbread’s hunger. She has the Fool bound for his own sacrifice and tasks Fitz with the killing of Icefyre–to which he agrees, even as the Fool is tortured before him. Fitz is turned out into the snows on Aslevjal and left to find his way again.
There is more than a bit of fanservice in the present chapter, and as I reread it again, I found myself wondering why it was there, why it was so overt. I mean, I get why the Pale Woman would want to seduce Fitz into doing her bidding; a willing participant is better than an unwilling one, the later being likely to look for ways to subvert and suborn even amid coerced compliance. But having the heavy-handed attempt seems…out of keeping for a prophetic figure who would normally be expected to be both long-lived and long-seeing; it doesn’t seem very thought out or thought ahead, and that seems to be at odds with the whole thing of the White Prophets. Perhaps it is a part of what I’ve seen as the primary point where Hobb’s writing falters–the rush to the end, about which I have commented on occasion (April 2013 and August 2015). It’s as if Hobb has an “Oh, shit, I have to finish the novel!” moment, and it still sits less than well with me, a decade later (and more, really). And that’s a shame, because I clearly like how Hobb writes–well enough to write my MA thesis on her work and to return to it after giving up on being a “real” academic.
Loving something doesn’t mean being blind to its problems, though. But at least the problems are as they are and not worse ones…