Just finished the book yesterday – and was it an awesome experience. Without repeating too much of what has already been said, I'll try to phrase some of my thoughts.
Oh Fitz. I love him to death, but his fitziness constantly keeps getting in his way and obstructing him in so many ways. Again he's well-meaning, loyal and generally smart, but careless of others and secretive - so secretive. Even with Nettle, Riddle, Kettricken, Dutiful and others constantly battering him with love, affection and respect, I doubt that he'll ever truly learn to depend on them. A pity, really.
In that aspect, I consider his „unmasking“ and Dutiful's „no more secrets“ attitude to be a significant step forward. I like Chade, and consider his relationship with Fitz be to one of the most interesting in the series – but in some ways, his influence is borderline toxic. Chade's problem is mostly that he was king's hidden assassin for way too long – and it formed (and still forms) the core of his being. Too often it happened that his only way of showing his affection and concern for a youngster is to teach him/her about poisons and secretiveness. It's a pattern which repeated many times: with Fitz, Lant, Shine, Spark...
Kettricken is still being her serene, calm, supportive and awesome self. I have to agree that there's definitely something going on between her and Fitz – I'm not sure whether it will lead anywhere (probably not), but Hobb has intentionally put it in the text. What especially stroke me is the casual intimacy between them with usually goes beyond one that is usual between friends. I remember the scene where she (casually) sleeps next to Fitz and hugs him and later (casually) kisses him on the mouth.
Lant and Shine (and I must admit that both names Lantern Fallstar and Shine Fallstar sound incredibly cool – they're like Hobb's version of Rolland Storm, bastard of Nightsong) do get solid amount of screentime and character development. They both now seem much more interesting and fleshed out characters than they were a book ago. Lant in particular seems to be getting a lot of (mostly undeserved) lashings from Fitz through the book. His treatment of Bee through the first book was far from something to be proud of, but everything else I've seen speaks pretty well of his character.
Fool was one of the characters I was annoyed and dissapointed with in this book. Too clingy, half-offended when Fitz spent time with people other than him and way more eager to demand others' time, attention and service than to offer his own. Sulks and throws tantrums when others don't do his bidding. Especially jarring was his treatment of Spark in the last couple of chapters: here Fools seems utterly unconcerned with Spark's well-being and sanity after being thrown several times through portals in just two days, even casually suggesting another travel with Spark being half-dead. Overall, I've come to expect much better from Fool, and in Fool's Quest I was dissapointed.
So far, I'm not sure about them being well-portrayed man antagonists – there are just too many holes regarding their motives, characterization, endgame etc. What I'm sure about is that they are utterly detestable, so much that I'm earnestly rooting for Fitz to eliminate them all. In fact, in a conflict between Ellik's man and Servants, I cheered for Chanceldonians as the lesser of two (huge) evils. Ellik's company was pretty simple: unrepentant buch of killers, rapists and looters, kind of Bloody Mummers. Servants, on the other hand, are much more Tywin-like (although dumber), cunning manipulators who are completely fine with every possible atrocity if it suits their purposes. Remember how they tortured Fool in a search for Unexpected Son, how they were completely fine with Whiteywoods's destruction (because they needed it for steal Bee), not to mention Shine's rape (which they stopped only after Bee told them Shine is important).
Besides, I must note how Dwalia's stupidity sometimes stretches credulity. Ok, her mission was to kidnapp a Farseer princess (she knows who Tom Baderlock really is), which she knows will engage Dutiful to put all of Six Duchies resources into finding her. So, instead of meticulous planning and hiring highly organized band of mercenaries, she instead employs people widely known as untrustworthy betrayers and rapists. Her only method of controling them is Vindeliar (so she relies on Ellik being stupid enough not to figure it out), which she often sends ahead to "prepare“ villages from their company's arrival, leaving herself completey undefended. Is it any wonder that thing go wrong for her? Servants in general seem laughably incompetent – without Chalcedonians and especially Vindeliar they wouldn't be able to cross a border without being arrested, much less walking into heart of Six Duchies and kidnapping Bee.
But the thing which puzzles me the most is their motivation. Do they truly believe bullshit they're selling or is it all just a front with their true purpose being their own wealth (which is what Fool says)? Dwalia, for example, seems genuinely misguided instead of just greedy. And, besides, whatever their goal is, at certain point it just stops being „for the money“. It's noted that they are already filthy rich – so what's next? What's their endgame?
So the final destination in Fool's Quest in the mythical city of Kelsingra, an ancient Eldering settlement where magic still lingers. I was very glad too see Malta and Reyn again, and rejoice that they're still living hapilly together. However, in general, Kelsingra seems like a very poor city – not in wealth, but in everything else. People there being subservient to apparently absent dragons who don't give a damn about them and suffering their children being deformed and in pain – that's not worth any wealth Kelsingra brings.
Next – that Rapskal (spelling?) guy is really a huge ass. The way he comes of as jerkish, paranoid, murderous (attacking travellers in sight) and highly incompetent (militia's commander does nothing to seperate guests from a mob; or doesn't alert his king when guests arrive, or tries to arrest party which is being summoned by king) make me thing that he's not fit to command 2-men military unit, let alone entire Kelsingra's militia. Really, why exactly is this guy in charge?
With that said, I'm not overly concerned about Fitz&co's fate in Kelsingra. If Malta and Reyn are in charge, they'll release them immediately. If some sort of council in in charge (and M's and R's titles are purely decoration), I imagine Kelsingra's citizens will be overjoyed to help a guy who just healed and hugely helped them and their children. The only way that Fitz could ever face any trouble is if Rapskal is really in charge or everything (not Reyn and Malta and not council), which is not something that text implies. Yes, Amber broke some kind of dragon taboo, but Kelsingrains seem pretty pissed of with dragons at the moment, and rightfully so.
And while we're at it, dragons themselves annoy me to no end – they're like kindergarden children with machine guns. Very powerful, but selfish, immature and irresponsible. Here, for example, we witness them deforming their Keepers and causing them pain out of either malice of ignorance. Couldn't they take like 5 minutes to learn that humans and dragons have different anatomy, and that changing-humans-to-look-like-dragons can have awful consequences? No, they can't, because they just don't care one bit. Moreover, Tintaglia's thought when Fitz healed Phron („wasn't that human hers to shape?“) implies that the view their keepers as playthings and toys at best.
That's one part of the entire franchise that makes no sense to me. Time and time again, we are told (mostly be Fool) that the world needs dragons, but we're never truly shown why. Why exactly is world with dragons a better place is something I really have troubles understanding. And how do bunch of sea serpents who seemed troubled, compassionate and helpful (Maulkin&co from Liveship trilogy) transform into such a selfish jerkish creatures is really puzzling to me. Perhaps someone who read RWC can enlighten me, because I'd really like to know.
Magic and mystery
One of the favourite part of Fitz and Fool trilogy for me. Finally we get to learn more about origins and nature of Elderlings, Skill and dragons and how it's all connected. So, from now I'll mix tidbits of information from the books with mine and others' speculation.
I reckon Elderlings were once ordinary humans who by some chance started to befriend/serve dragons. These proximity of dragons caused of number of changes, for Elderlings quickly became magically and technologically pretty advanced civilization. They invented a number of magical inventions (Elderling tent Fool has, or Eldering cloak which hides the user, Skill-portals etc.), their bodies started sharing many similar characteristics with dragons' and they developed/invented Skill as a means of communicating with each other and with dragons. In short, their society was in every aspect far more advanced than anything we see in present day (now, does this remind anyone else of Silmarillion? Hm...). But then some catastrophic event happened and both Elderlings and dragons were wiped of the face of Earth. In present time, however, exactly the same thing is happening – bunch of people influenced by dragons are on their way of becoming new Elderlings.
Now, the Skill. I like Consigliere's idea that Skill users are descended from few Elderlings who survived the apocalypse and settle north. This draws a parallel with ancient Whites (modern day White Prophet are those with strongest influence from White genes), so I wonder if there's any connection between ancient Whites and ancient Elderlings?
Secondly, why are all the Skill users we meet citizens of 6 Duchies (apart from Vindeliar)? Even if the above theory is true, I would have expected some more intermingling of folk between 6D and Bingtown, Jamalia etc. I'd have expected to at least hear of someone outside of 6D who shows some talent for Skill.
Third, if Wit connected in all of this? At the first glance, Wit and Skill seem the opposite magics. Skill is primarily magic of the mind, an „superego“ magic if you will. It allows people to telepathically communicate, to influence other people's opinions, to mind-rape someone, to erase memories or instill non-existing ones etc. Wit, on the other hand, seems like magic of body and nature, of natural essences (human essences for humans, dog essences for dogs etc.), which is why Forged people (who gave their essences to stone dragons) are invisible to Wit. So, Wit allows users to feel other life forms and to communicate and bond with them. It also enables them to heal others, even at the point of bringing them from death (Fitz healing Fool) and intermingling essences of two beings (Fitz in Nighteyes' body or Piebalds living in their partners' bodies after death).
On the other hand, the two share a number of similarities as well. Firstly, they can both achieve a number of things, albeit in a different way (healing or physically repelling a person). They are both unknown of anywhere else other than in 6D (do we know and any Bingtowner or Jamalian with Wit, for example), and they're both somehow connected with stone dragons. To create stone dragon, you need Skill to pour yourself into stone (a small digression, is stone important as a material? For it's also used in construction of Skill portals), but, on the other hand, to awaken stone dragon – you need blood and Wit.
So, did Wit originate from Skill or the other way around? Maybe they both originate from same source, maybe they were once same magic that diverged into two? Maybe not? Can you Wit-bond with dragon? For the record, I don't think Hobb will ever clear most of this out, but it's an interesting food for thought.