Robin Hobb (Megan Lindholm) has attracted quite a devoted audience with her last two sets of books, the Farseer 'Assassin' trilogy and the Live Ship Trader series, and with good reason, as these are fantasies of quite a different stripe from the normal and told with power, wit, and depth. While not absolutely necessary to enjoying this book, as there are enough explanatory sections here to catch the gist of the action of the prior books, I do recommend that you read the Assassin trilogy first, as it will not only provide the reader with all the past action, it will give you a fine benchmark of the how the characters were at the time of those books, allowing you to easily see the changes that time has wrought.
This book picks up 15 years after the ending of the Farseer set, with FitzChivalry Farseer and his Wit bond-mate wolf Nighteyes leading a quiet life as a farmer trying to raise his adopted son Hap, carefully avoiding any traffic with his former life of intrigue as a royal assassin. This early section of the book is remarkable for how strong the character development is, even though there is almost no action during this portion, showing a much more mature Fitz who has almost come to terms with the sacrifices he was required to make in the earlier books. Of course, this idyllic setting can't last, as first his former mentor Chade arrives for a visit to try and convince Fitz to return to service at Buckkeep Castle, followed by the very enigmatic Fool, now known as Lord Golden, and finally is convinced to return to Buckkeep by a summons from Chade to help find Prince Dutiful, Fitz's son by body, but not by himself as a person, who has either been kidnapped or run away.
Thus the action is enjoined, leading Fitz not just away from his farm, but into consideration of the whys and needs of both his Wit and Skill abilities. A set of considerations that have relevance for everyone, questions on should you lead if you can, can you let a social injustice continue when you have the means and ability to do something about it, about the importance of life and the time to properly allow death to reign, the strength of personal relationships and what is owed to friends, where the responsibilities of a parent begin and end. Throughout, Fitz, Nighteyes, and the Fool continue to grow as characters, till you feel that these are people you know, have lived, ached, lost and triumphed with.
Hobb's descriptive powers are well in evidence here, and her characters are neatly folded into her imagined universe, that includes not just the world of Wit and Skill of the Assassin works but also is explicitly tied to her Live Ship set, though that tie, so far, is only mentioned in passing, not fully developed. This book, unlike so many that are planned as part of a larger group of works, is very complete in itself, with an excellent resolution to all the problems and concerns it starts with. But I have a feeling the next book will make more of the tie to the Liveships and Bingtown traders, and I am looking forward to it.