“Don’t feel that much!” — FOOL’S QUEST by Robin Hobb

A killing rage rose in me, and Thick took a step back from me. “Stop,” he begged me. “Don’t feel that much!”

Roughly one-third of the way through FOOL’S QUEST, Thick pleads with Fitz not to share so many of his intense feelings through the Skill. In a way, I can certainly relate. Robin Hobb’s books about FitzChivalry Farseer are some of my absolute favorite books to read and re-read, but whenever a new book comes out, I find myself cautiously circling the book beforehand, like Fitz’s wolf Nighteyes might approach an injured¬†buck.

Whether it was the quiet, lonely ending of ASSASSIN’S QUEST or the deaths of any one of any number of the characters in Fitz’s life, Hobb has the unparalleled ability to take a nice, quiet story and turn it into a gut punch.

There’s a scene about 1/3 of the way through FOOL’S QUEST in which Fitz is asked to attend a¬†celebration, and in the course of events a number of announcements are made by the royal family, including one that directly impacts Fitz’s life in Buckkeep. It’s one of those scenes that only works when you’ve laid as much character-building groundwork as Hobb has, and even then it relies strongly upon Hobb’s writing ability to convince the reader to dive into this emotional journey. I’m not sure there’s anyone else in the genre today who could have written a scene like this.

Bringing Fitz back to Buckkeep and reuniting him with old friends gave the series a new energy after spending much of FOOL’S ASSASSIN with Fitz in the ill-fitting role of a minor lord. Thanks to the conclusion of the previous book, FOOL’S QUEST has more urgency than its predecessor, and despite Thick’s protests, angry Fitz is my favorite Fitz:

“We will discover the truth. And face it. And whatever it is, we will go after them. And we will kill them all, like the bastards we are.”

But part of what makes Hobb so effective is her discipline — we only occasionally see angry Fitz, and whenever he does appear, it’s entirely earned. I could argue that it took too long for Fitz to actually begin his titular quest, but I know that time was spent on character development, and that time will pay off in spades in the third and final book of the trilogy.

I can’t wait.

THOMAS JEFFERSON: THE ART OF POWER by Jon Meacham

Last year I decided that in addition to my regular array of fiction, I would begin a project to read biographies of each American president. THOMAS JEFFERSON: THE ART OF POWER represents the third book in that project for me, and I believe that reading about George Washington and John Adams — two presidents with personalities and character traits that differed wildly from Jefferson — made an impact in how I read about Jefferson and how I responded to Jon Meacham’s analysis of Jefferson’s strengths and weaknesses.

After reading the book’s opening pages I feared that I had misunderstood what the book was — that instead of reading a biography that told Jefferson’s life story, I’d found an extended essay describing Jefferson’s balance of idealism and pragmatism.

Broadly put, philosophers think; politicians maneuver. Jefferson’s genius was that he was both and could do both, often simultaneously. Such is the art of power.

Eventually, Meacham does go into a well-researched, detailed description of Jefferson’s life. It’s a description that praises Jefferson for his intelligence and political abilities, and while I appreciated Jefferson’s intellect and writing ability, the examples of him working from the shadows, asking friends to criticize or campaign on his behalf, all so he could deny involvement, grew wearying, especially after reading about Washington — who seemed above such pettiness — and Adams, who was at times the target of Jefferson’s shadow campaigning.

Meacham doesn’t hide from the Sally Hemings scandal, which I appreciated, even if his introduction of the topic borders on comedy:

In this tempestuous time, Jefferson apparently began a sexual relationship with his late wife’s enslaved half sister.

In all, this was an interesting read, with plenty of nuggets of information I hadn’t known. I think I can respect Jefferson’s accomplishments — the Declaration of Independence, the Louisiana Purchase — without ever ranking him among my favorite presidents, but I’m glad I took the time to learn more about him and this period of history. This biography certainly helped me do both, with a wealth of detail that kept me interested throughout.