Robin Hobb has made a huge name for herself as an epic fantasy author. And now we've got the exclusive cover reveal for her next book, Fool's Asssassin — plus the first excerpt!
Fool's Assassin comes out in August from Del Rey, and it's her long-awaited return to her fan-favorite Fitz & the Fool series. Check out an exclusive chapter below!
My dear Lady Fennis,
We have been friends far too long for me to be circumspect. As you so delicately hinted, yes, there has been shattering news delivered to me. My stepson, Prince Chivalry, has exposed himself as the crude fellow I have always known him to be. His bastard child, fathered on a Mountain whore, has been revealed.
As shameful as that is, it could have been handled far more discreetly if his clever-as-a-stone brother Prince Verity had taken swift and decisive action to eliminate the disgrace. Instead, he has announced him in an indiscreet message to my husband.
And so, in the face of this base disgrace, what does my lord do? Why, not only does he insist the bastard must be brought to Buckkeep Castle, he then bestows on Chivalry the title to Withywoods, and sends him out to pasture there with his graceless barren wife. Withywoods! A fine estate that any number of my friends would be pleased to occupy, and he rewards it to his son for fathering a bastard with a foreign commoner! Nor does King Shrewd find it distasteful that said bastard has been brought back here to Buckkeep Castle where any member of my court may see the little Mountain savage.
And the final insult to me and my son? He has decreed that Prince Verity will now take up the title of King-in-Waiting, and be the next presumed heir to the throne. When Chivalry had the decency to secede his claim in the face of this disgrace, I secretly rejoiced, believing that Regal would immediately be recognized as the next king. While he may be younger than both his half-brothers, no one can dispute that his bloodlines are more noble, and his bearing as lordly as his name.
Truly, I am wasted here. As wasted as my son Regal. When I gave up my own reign and titles to be Shrewd's queen, it was in the belief that any child I bore him would be seen as possessing far better lineage than the two reckless boys his former queen gave him, and would reign after Shrewd. But does he now look at Chivalry and admit his mistake in naming him heir? No. Instead he sets him aside only to install his doltish younger brother as King in Waiting. Verity. Hulking, square-faced Verity, with all the grace of an ox.
It is too much, my dear. Too much for me to bear. I would leave court, save that Regal would then be without a defender here.
A missive from Queen Desire to Lady Fennis of Tilth
I hated her when I was a boy. I recall the first time I found that missive, unfinished and never sent. I read it, confirming for myself that the queen I had never formally met had, indeed, hated me from the moment she knew of me. I made it mutual. I never asked Chade, how he came by that letter. A bastard himself and half-brother to King Shrewd, Chade had never hesitated in pursuing the best interests of the Farseer throne. He had purloined it from Queen Desire's desk, perhaps. Perhaps it had been his ploy to make it appear the queen snubbed Lady Fennis by not responding to her letter. Does it matter now? I do not know, for I do not know what effect my old mentor gained with his theft.
Yet I do wonder, sometimes, if it was an accident that I found and read Queen Desire's letter to Lady Fennis, or if it was a deliberate revelation on Chade's part. He was my mentor in those days, teaching me the assassin's arts. Chade served his king ruthlessly, as assassin, spy and manipulator of the court at Buckkeep Castle, and taught me to do the same. A royal bastard, he told me, is only safe in a court so long as he is useful. Ostensibly, I was a lowly bastard, ignored or reviled as I navigated the dangerous currents of politics in the castle. But both King Shrewd and I knew that I was protected by the king's hand and his assassin. Yet it was not only poisons and knife-work and subterfuge that he taught me, but what one must do to survive as a bastard of royal lineage. Did he seek to give me warning, or teach me to hate that I might be more firmly his? Even those questions come to me too late.
Over the years, I have seen Queen Desire in so many guises. First, she was the horrid woman who hated my father and hated me even more, the woman with the power to snatch the crown from my father's head and condemn me to a life where even my name was the mark of my bastardy. I recall a time in my life when I feared even to let her see me.
Years after I arrived at Buckkeep, when my father was murdered at Withywoods, hers was the hand most likely behind it. And yet there was nothing I or Chade could do about it, no justice we could demand. I remember wondering if King Shrewd did not know or if he did not care. I remember knowing with absolute certainty that if Queen Desire wished my death, she could ask for it. I even wondered then if Chade would protect me or if he would bow to his duty and allow it to happen. Such things for a child to wonder.
Withywoods was an idea to me, a harsh place of banishment and humiliation. When I was a boy and I lived in Buckkeep, I was told that was where my father had gone, to hide from the shame that was me. He had abdicated his throne and crown, bowed his head to the hurt and anger of his lawful wife Patience, apologized to king and court for his failure of virtue and judgment, and fled from the bastard he had sired.
And so I imagined that place based on the only places I had ever lived, as a fortified castle on a hill. I had thought of it as a place like the stockade fortress at Moonseye in the Mountain Kingdom, or the steep walls of Buckkeep Castle perched on top of sheer and forbidding black cliffs overlooking the sea. I had imagined my father, brooding alone in a chill stone hall hung with battle pennants and ancient arms. I imagined stony fields that gave onto grey-fogged marshes.
Later I would discover that Withywoods was a grand manor, a large and comfortable home built in a wide and generous valley. Its walls were not of stone, but of golden oak and rich maple, and though the floors of the halls were flagged with flat river stone, the walls were panelled in warm wood. The gentle sunlight of the farming valley fell in broad stripes into the rooms through the tall, narrow windows. The carriageway to the front door was wide, and graceful white birches lined it. In autumn, they shed a carpet of gold on the road, and in winter, burdened with snow, they arched over it, a frosted white tunnel paned with glimpses of blue sky.
Withywoods was not a fortress banishment, not an exile, but a tolerant pasturing-out for my father and his barren wife. I think my grandfather had loved my father as much as his stepmother hated him. King Shrewd sent him to that distant estate to be safe.
And when my time came to go there, with the woman I loved and her lively boys and the woman who had always wanted to be my mother, it became for a time a haven of rest and peace for us.
Time is an unkind teacher, delivering lessons that we learn far too late for them to be useful. Years after I could have benefited from them, the insights come to me. Now, I look back on 'old' King Shrewd and see him as a man beset by a long wasting illness that stole from him the comfort of his own body and the sharpness of his mind. But worse, I see Queen Desire for what she was: not an evil woman intent on making my little life miserable, but as a mother full of ruthless love for her only son, intent that he should never be slighted in any way. She would stop at nothing to put him on a throne.
What would I not have done to protect my little daughter? What action would have been too extreme? If I say, "I would have killed them all, with no regrets," does that make me a monster?
Or just a father?
But it is all hindsight. All these lessons, learned too late. When I was still a young man, I felt in my flesh like a bent old gaffer, full of pains and sighs. Oh, how I pitied myself, and justified every wild decision I had ever made! And then, when it came time for me to be the wise elder of my household, I was trapped in the body of a man of middle years, still subject to those passions and impulses, still relying on the strength of my right arm when I would have been wiser to stop and employ my powers of reason.
Lessons learned too late. Insights discovered decades later.
And so much lost as a result.
Copyright © 2014 by Robin Hobb. Excerpted by permission of Del Rey, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
And here's the full cover: