Fool's Quest is book two in the Fitz and the Fool trilogy, and I clearly had to pick it up: the Fool has always been one of my favourite characters (not even mentioning my weakness for the general archetype), and Hobb is at her best when writing about him. But before I get into plot details, be warned - as a direct sequel to Fool's Assassin, there will be serious spoilers for that book.
Fool's Quest begins where Fool's Assassin leaves off - or, in fact, slightly before it. Bee, Fitz's daughter, has been kidnapped by the Servants, who believe her to be the Unexpected Son, a new White Prophet. Fitz... has no idea about this, and is in Buckkeep tending to the Fool, who has been severely injured. A good quarter of the book is felt playing catch-up in this fashion, and while the Buckkeep court has always been the most interesting location, the reader's knowledge being so far ahead of the characters' does lend the book a slower pace than usual, and can be frustrating at times when characters fail to jump to conclusions apparently obvious to the reader.
But starting there does remedy one of the previous novel's main deficits: a lack of the Fool, who appeared only in the finale, despite being alluded to throughout the book. His dynamic with Fitz has naturally changed, but it's nicely developed from those previous encounters. Admittedly Hobb has a certain recurring plot with her characters' recovery from torture, and much of the Fool's book is given over to that: regaining some of what he used to be, despite his old injuries and new blindness. It's uncomfortable but powerful reading, and the Fool is still one of my favourite characters - and one of the few mainstream canonically non-binary characters - in fantasy. Fitz also gets to interact with this element of him in more sensible fashion (aka: less face-in-hands, "Fitz, why are you doing this?" questioning), and there are some great moments that showcase the pair.
Actually, that's another main point about the book: it reads as fanservice. That's not in the sexual-content sense, but in the sense that there are some scenes in this book that fans have waited (possibly) trilogies to see. They're undeniably powerful. That said, it is also overlong. Hobb's books have always been doorstoppers, but Fool's Quest is the first that made me conscious of this fact. Partly, it's the problem of the slow start, and the intermittent Bee viewpoints: most of the time is spent with Fitz playing catchup, and the main plot takes a while to get going. While I appreciate the joy of meeting old characters once more, and the personalities of the Buckkeep court, it does make the final scenes and ensuing cliffhanger seem rather tacked on. (If you're yet to start the trilogy and are easily frustrated by cliffhangers, I might recommend waiting with this one - it's a bit of an egregious example)
Overall, however, Fool's Quest is a novel that any Hobb fan will probably love. Its flaws don't detract from the depth of the Fitz/Fool relationship, developed over three trilogies, and which leaves me thirsty for more such intrinsically character-driven fantasy. It's also interesting to see Hobb's Realm of the Elderlings developing more realistically. Protagonists of previous novels in leadership roles are far from in complete agreement, and some are politically completely opposed. It's a nice touch, and makes the world in the background seem much richer. Recommended with caveats, it's a read that you'll probably love regardless.
Amazon: US UK