Note: No spoilers for this book, although because it is the third in a trilogy, there will necessarily be spoilers for the previous two books.
This book, by no means a standalone novel, is the conclusion to the “Fitz and the Fool Trilogy.” The story continues the tale of FitzChivalry’s efforts to get revenge on the Servants of the White Prophet for the kidnapping and presumed murder of his daughter Bee. He is aided on his quest by his long-time friend The Fool; The Fool’s attendant Spark; Lant, who is the son of Fitz’s old mentor Chade; Bee’s friend Perseverance (or “Per”); and Per’s companion crow Motley. They complicate matters for Fitz and put him in even more danger, but Fitz of course only feels guilty for not taking better care of them all.
As this third and final volume of this trilogy begins, the group is in Kelsingra, a place where the Skill-magic runs strong.
The Fool decides (based on interpreting dreams) that Bee is still alive, and moreover, that she has been taken to Castle Clerres, the stronghold of the Servants. He also wants to go there to get his own revenge on them, demanding that Fitz “go to Clerres and kill them all.” The Servants, originally meant to help set the world on a better path, got corrupted over time and, as Fool contends, “care only for enriching themselves and their own comfort.” Now they breed those who have precognizant dreams, and profit from “disasters and windfalls.” Moreover, they cruelly tortured Fool for “disobedience.”
Fitz and his group learn that the dragons want revenge on Clerres as well, so they must speed there to rescue Bee, if indeed she is there and alive, before the dragons destroy everyone and everything in Clerres. The leaders of Kelsingra, who feel a debt to both the Fool and Fitz, arrange for their transportation. Part of the trip is accomplished by “liveships,” living ships made of wood formed from dragon cocoons and enhanced by the memories of those who served and died on the ships. A subplot running through the story is the desire of at least some of the dragons at the heart of the liveships to be released to realize their natural forms and destinies.
In alternate chapters, we follow the progress of Bee, who is in fact still alive, and her captors, a warped group from Clerres led by the evil Dwalia. Dwalia and her coterie had originally set out from Clerres to follow The Fool (known to them as “Beloved”) in the hope he would lead them to the Unexpected Son foretold in dreams. They decided Bee was this person, and, killing most of the people at Bee’s home in Withywoods, are now taking her to Clerres for interrogation (and presumably for Dwalia to be rewarded). [It should be noted that The Fool believes Fitz is the Unexpected Son, in addition to being Fool’s “catalyst” to change the world. Fitz, for his part, believes himself to be the foretold “Destroyer.”]
Bee, though weak and sad, is aided by the inner guidance of her wolf-father, Nighteyes.
Bee is put in a prison cell in Clerres, and there meets Prilkop, another prophet who has fallen out of favor with the Servants. She asks him, “Prilkop, just tell me. Do I break the future?” He tells her: “Oh child. We all do. That is both the danger and the hope of life. That each of us changes the world, every day.” Indeed.
Bee decides that the stored memories at Clerres harm the world:
“The problem is not that we forget the past. It is that we recall it too well. Children recall wrongs that enemies did to their grandfathers, and blame the granddaughters of the old enemies. . . . hates are bequeathed to [children], taught them, breathed into them. If adults didn’t tell children of their hereditary hates, perhaps we would do better.”
Thus she resolves to do something about the chain of vengeance. This will be her destined Path.
Meanwhile, Fitz and his group finally arrive in Clerres, and all the plot strands come together. The readers know at least some will not make it out alive, because the dreams have foretold as much. But the dreams are conveyed in symbols and allegories, and moreover refer to the Unexpected Son and the Destroyer, whose identities we also don’t know for sure.
Discussion: We know that in Fitz’s world, “Nothing is really lost. Shapes change. But it’s never completely gone.” But it’s not always clear in what ways this happens. Even the characters in the book aren’t always sure what is real, and what they just wish to be real.
The Fool continues to exercise a sway over Fitz that is very annoying, and I have to say I shared Bee’s assessment of The Fool, and was gratified that I wasn’t the only one to feel that way, even if it was a fictional person that shared my feelings! But this relationship has always been at the heart of the series, and the author stayed true to it throughout the story.
While I loved Bee and Per especially, as with the previous books in the trilogy, I found that some of the most endearing and unforgettable characters were not human.
Evaluation: Overall, in spite of my quibbles, this series is wonderful. Unlike other books of this length, I did not come away from this one (or any of the author’s previous books in this saga) wishing it could have been edited to be shorter. On the contrary, I was very sad to see it end! When you spend this much time with memorable characters, it’s very hard to let them go!
Published by Del Rey, and imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House, 2017