The Golden Fool - tying the series together
Book two of the Tawny Man series finally ties the events happening in the Six Duchies to those that occurred in the earlier Liveship Traders series. Now that Prince Dutiful has been rescued from the Piebalds he must face the fact that his life is not his own. He has been promised in marriage to the Narcheska Elliania of the Out Islands in the hope that such a marriage might heal the wounds between their kingdoms after the recent war. The two of them do not hit it off when they finally meet and neither of them wants to follow through on the arrangement. This angst leads to Dutiful carelessly offending the Narcheska and in return she publicly challenges him to prove he is worthy of her. She demands that Dutiful slay the Dragon Icefyre that legends say sleeps beneath the ice back in her lands. Before anyone can stop Dutiful he agrees to the challenge to show that he is worthy of this bride that he doesn't even want. Kids.
Preparing for this quest becomes the focus of much of this book and of course things are not exactly straightforward. While the Out Islanders are in the Six Duchies for the betrothal ceremony the Jamailians also arrive in an effort to court the Six Duchies into an alliance. If you have read the Liveship Traders trilogy then you know that the Jamailians have hatched a single Dragon, Tintaglia, and they hope that she will enable many more to return to the skies. In order to accomplish this they need the help of the Six Duchies to hold back their enemies while Tintaglia watches over an ailing clutch of young. The Out Islanders oppose any support of the Jamailians and there is no way for the Six Duchies to please both sides and their opposing desires.
The complexities in this book extend well beyond political and it is actually the relationships of the characters that take center stage. Fitz manages to alienate just about everyone important to him and finds that, much like the Six Duchies, his fate is intertwined with that of the Dragons. The two closest people in his life, the Fool and Chade, both expect him to support them in their conflicting allegiances. The Fool is certain that helping the Dragons return to the skies is his destiny and he expects Fitz, his Catalyst, to ensure that it happens, while Chade adamantly supports his Prince and the commitment to slay Icefyre. Fitz tries to straddle the line between the two and that goes about as well as you would think.
As happens in many trilogies this book suffers from being the middle book of the series and winds up being mostly set-up for book three. I do like the fact that Robin Hobb brought the two prior series together into one consistent story line and I feel she did an excellent job of setting the stage for an interesting finale in Fool's Fate.
For the audiobook James Langton continues his excellent narration and has done a great job enhancing the personalities of the characters.