Assassin’s Fate in one word: Catharsis

Caveat lector: While there are no specific plot spoilers, be aware that my reflections strongly suggest the nature of the ending. The conclusion is so stunning, however, that I doubt my review would blunt its impact.

Assassin’s Fate, the final chapter in the adventures of Fitz and the Fool that Robin Hobb fans have been waiting for, does not disappoint.

Robin Hobb – Random House

The novel opens where Fool’s Assassin left off: the aftermath of Fitz being submerged in the Skill stream and Bee’s attempt to escape her cruel captors. Once those situations are resolved (for better or for worse), we follow the slow and inexorable journeys of Bee and her captors and of Fitz and his party to Clerres, the stronghold of the Four. This is vintage Hobb who injects into what could be tedious journeys elements of danger, interpersonal conflicts, revelations, and the interweaving and conjoining of what at one time seemed like rabbit trails of irrelevant side stories. In Hobb’s novels, nothing is irrelevant.

The stakes couldn’t be higher when the showdown at Clerres takes place, and the action is riveting. The outcome, however, is both triumph and tragedy for Fitz, Bee, and the Fool. But wait there are still 200 pages to go! We’ve had the climax, and the remainder of the story is supposed to tie up loose ends and wind down. But not in Assassin’s Fate. The heroes’ return is as dramatic and suspenseful as the climax, leading to one of the most pathos-filled conclusions to a novel I have ever read.

I unabashedly cried for about the last 25 pages. At one point, my eyes were so blurry with tears I couldn’t read. When I finished, I sat on my couch stunned, tears still streaming down my face. I felt as if a tsunami of emotion had overwhelmed and submerged me. Never before I had experienced such an intense reaction to a novel.

Upon thinking about my response the next day, I could only come to the conclusion that I had experienced catharsis through art. Catharsis comes from Greek meaning cleanse or pure. When used in connection with art, it signifies the cleansing or purging of emotions, particularly fear and pity, which, in turn, effects a kind of regeneration. This idea is typically traced back to Aristotle, who in his Poetics states, “Tragedy is then a representation of an action that is heroic and complete and of a certain magnitude… and through pity and fear it effects the relief of these and similar emotions.”* The scholar E.R. Dodds, in discussing catharsis in connection with Oedipus Rex, states, “What fascinates us is the spectacle of a man freely choosing, from the highest motives, a series of actions which lead to his own ruin.”**

While Assassin’s Fate is not a tragedy in Aristotle’s sense, Fitz’s actions are heroic, complete, and of great magnitude. His motives are noble—save his daughter, Bee, from certain torture and death and rid the world of evil. Pity (that is, sorrow or grief aroused by the misfortune of another) for him in his suffering effected in me a great release not only of grief but also, interestingly, of anger. In the immediate moments of finishing the novel and even hours later, I can’t say I felt renewed. To the contrary, I felt devastated. It took me a while to emerge out of that emotion and to feel any measure of equanimity. Contemplating my reaction through the lens of catharsis helped in that regard. I also came to accept that Fitz’s heroic journey had to end as it did. It is not how I wanted it to end, but it is fitting.

What is a novel that has left you emotionally drained?

Final word: Do not attempt this novel until you have read the other eight books of the trilogies, starting with Assassin’s Apprentice.

* Translation W.H. Frye, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0056%3Asection%3D1449b

** Dodds, E. R. (1966). “On Misunderstanding the ‘Oedipus Rex.'” Greece and Rome13 (1): 37–49. doi:10.1017/s0017383500016144JSTOR 642354. Cited from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catharsis.

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