First and foremost : the fool is the most beautiful thing to happen in this series.
Having said that, this book is as slow as a crippled sloth. It not only suffers from Recap Syndrome typical of middle novels, but when there's any chance a bit of plot might be in sight it gets buried under pages of painful honey-coated romance. If I ever again hear how sweet Molly's perfume is and how nice her hair and how Fitz's heart lurches in his chest SO HELP ME GOD. (Aside: "my heart [insert verb] in my chest" is a phrase Hobb uses so often i started wondering if In this series hearts are not usually located in the chest but maybe, say, in the left foot?)
The characters, at least, get a bit of development. Fitz is whinier and more arrogant from the very beginning, which at least delivers him from the Unfailingly Noble role I feared he'd be confined to. King Shrewd, poor thing, had his potential for of depth but was unconscious for too much of the time for anything to come out of it. Verity gets some wonderful character flaws and his affection for the Fitz doesn't preclude his making use of him left and right just as a king would a subject. Nighteyes is just a dear. But tis to Burrich and the Fool that my affections went this time round: Burrich's combination of down-to-earthness, stoicism and gruffness fit perfectly with the unfolding of his backstory, while the Fool's lack of foolishness, excess of unconcealed emotional pain and existential doubts made him my only reason for not putting down this book. Because in the end however interesting your intrigues and well defined your characters, If you compress the plot of a 750 page book in the last 200, I'm going to have slog through 500 pages of scented candles and thumping hearts which greatly dampens my enthusiasm and, in more stressful hours, greatly endangers my kindle.