Royal Assassin, Robin Hobb - 05.10.07 ****
In Royal Assassin, Fitz has barely survived his first mission as the kings assassin. He returns to the palace, nearly a cripple, and spends the following winter trying to recover his strength. When he finally recovers, he discovers that the kingdom is in worse shape than before - the Red Ship barbarians have renewed their attacks along the coast, and treason and treachery threaten the throne. Verity, the King-in-Waiting, discovers ancient scrolls describing the Elderlings, a race of people who once came to the defense of the Six Duchies in ancient times, and promised to return again if called. Verity decides to go searching for them and beg their aid against the Red Ships.
Regal, the kings youngest son, immediately begins to use Verity's absence to usurp the throne. When word reaches the palace that Verity has died, he becomes the new King-in-Waiting, and begins the final stages of his plans. Accidents begin to befall those between him and the throne, and King Shrewd's health continues to fail.
Fitz and his allies struggle to keep the kingdom together, & protect the King and Verity's wife and unborn child. But eventually it becomes an effort to merely stay alive. Poison attempts & outright attacks must be survived, and when the King finally dies - murdered at Regal's command - it seems that Fitz has lost the battle. To protect his friends and loved ones, and save the kingdom, may require the greatest sacrifice - his life!