I have not felt this strongly about a book in a long time. Unfortunately it is not a good feeling this time. This review will contain spoilers for the first two books in the trilogy and this book itself. I figure that given the date of the books, there aren’t many people who have read the first two but not the third.
Just to quickly set the scene, I will talk briefly about the first two books. The first book worked well as a stand alone story, but also as something setting the scene for bigger events. It was about Fitz growing up, but it also introduced the two main threats facing the Six Duchies: the Outislanders and Prince Regal. It was always obvious that we would get no resolution on those stories in the first book, and I remember thinking that the book must have been planned as a trilogy from the beginning.
In the second book both the threats are really developed. Prince Verity struggles to keep the Outislanders away and Prince Regal is slowly killing the King and positioning himself to take over. It all came to a head in a brilliant ending where Verity had to go beyond the Mountain Kingdom to get help from the mythical Elderlings and Fitz had to fake his own death to escape Regal. So far so good. It also managed to avoid a common problem with trilogies—the boring second book syndrome.
At this point I will say that I had a view of what was going to happen in the third book and how it might pan out. I always saw the Regal threat as the more minor of the two, so I thought Fitz would kill Regal in the first half of the book and then Verity would arrive with the Elderlings and the second half of the book would be about the battle of fend off the Outislanders. Well, if I was given 100 attempts to predict the third book, I still would have failed.
Before I start criticizing this book (and that may take a while), I will discuss the positives. Hobb is brilliant with characters. Fitz is certainly one of my favourite protagonists in fantasy fiction. The whole book is told from his perspective so it is crucial to have a likable, but not boring, character. The only comparison I can make is to Kvothe in Name of the Wind, however Fitz is actually flawed and in my opinion that makes him more interesting. Hobb is also great with relationships. The relationships Fitz had with Nighteyes, the Fool, and Verity, could have come across as cheesy and unrealistic, but Hobb deals with them brilliantly. In fact, despite my displeasure with this book, I can safely say that Hobb is a great writer. Unfortunately, she may not tell a great story.
I said this book would include spoilers and I am now going to spoil 98% of the book with one word: walking. It is basically all that happens. Fitz walks from one place to another. Sometimes with company, and sometimes without. He meets other characters who often play no part in the story and then moves on. Imagine Lord of the Rings (spoilers coming up - although if you haven’t read LOTR yet then shame on you :-)) without all the battle stuff—just Frodo and Sam. And then imagine that they don’t meet Gollum. And they don’t come across any significant dangers along the way, except maybe a mountain that is tricky to climb. And then they throw the ring in the fire and Mordor collapses. That is kind of this book. It is just so boring!
Even the dragons are boring! I mean, and old weak Verity slowing chipping away at a stone to make a dragon is hardly exciting. I also think it is cheating a little. I would have preferred the ending to have been based more on the magic system set up in the first two books. I appreciate that it leans heavily on the Skill, but I still was a little surprised to see Dragons featuring in the story (although with hindsight the huge dragon on the cover should have been a minor clue). It just didn’t feel like a world that had dragons in it.
Another problem is the lack of urgency. We are constantly told about the threat of the raiders and Regal but it is hard to really think that is important. In the second book there was a real sense of urgency, but in this one they spend months walking through woods and building dragons. In fact, I have no idea how much time passed in this book, it just didn’t seem to be an issue. Occasionally we see a raid through someone else’s eyes, but that just makes you wonder why there is not more of a rush.
Needless to say, the ending was a huge disappointment. Not with regards to the characters. I liked the endings for them, even though it was a little sad in places. The actual story however, had one of the worst endings I have read in fantasy literature. I may have been happier if Fitz had woken up in New York in 2012 and it had all just been a dream. I have no idea what possessed Hobb to take what little story there was here and stretch it out over 758 pages. It seems to be part of a common pattern though. The first book starts off short and is a success. The author gets carried away and writes two huge sequels, which lose the pacing that made the first book such a success (see also the Mistborn trilogy I think).
The book gets 5/10 because of the character development.