Author: Robin Hobb
Date Published: March 1996
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Blurb (taken from Goodreads): In a faraway land where members of the royal family are named for the virtues they embody, one young boy will become a walking enigma.
Born on the wrong side of the sheets, Fitz, son of Chivalry Farseer, is a royal bastard, cast out into the world, friendless and lonely. Only his magical link with animals - the old art known as the Wit - gives him solace and companionship. But the Wit, if used too often, is a perilous magic, and one abhorred by the nobility.
So when Fitz is finally adopted into the royal household, he must give up his old ways and embrace a new life of weaponry, scribing, courtly manners; and how to kill a man secretly, as he trains to become a royal assassin.
Why I read it:I’ve never read anything by Robin Hobb, which is pretty terrible. So I decided to change that. This book seemed like a good place to start, especially considering Fool’s Assassin is coming out later this year.
My thoughts:In many ways, The Assassin’s Apprentice is rather conventional. It’s set in the Six Duchies, a united (and medieval) kingdom with a smidge of magic. The protagonist is young, male, and somewhat magical. He also has royal blood, at least on his father’s side. So far, so traditional, right? Still, I’d be inclined to call this book classic rather than cliché because omg it was just that good.
The main character was (the) Fitz. A talented lad, he is trained as a stablehand, scribe, and assassin. This furnishes him with all sorts of useful skills – reading, writing, riding, biology/gardening, fighting, sneaking and others – to manipulate a situation to his favour. However, Fitz is a decent lad and not a cold-hearted killer. A lot of the book shows how incredibly isolated he is at court (can’t be easy growing up a royal bastard), and the doubts he has over his profession and general place in the world. It’s compelling reading. In fact, the only thing I disliked about Fitz was his use of the Wit. I’m sorry, but I just find magic that lets humans bond telepathically with animals boring.
The secondary characters were also great. I was surprised how much I liked Verity, Fitz’s royal uncle and second in line for the throne. Burrich the stablehand definitely grew on me too. However, I was also disappointed by the scarcity of women in this book. It’s not to say that it was badly written – none of the ladies we met seemed like stereotypes, and some were capable and confident characters. But for the majority of this book, Fitz doesn’t interact with any of them. He knows women who are unimportant servants or self-indulgent nobles, but their lives hardly touch his. Fortunately, this tendency lessens a bit near the end. I’m hoping the second and third books won’t suffer the same problem though: this trilogy looks like it will be great fun, and I want to be swept away in it instead of nitpicking at the gender politics.
I loved the plot too. There’s a lot of court politicking, which I always enjoy. There’s also some interesting stuff going on with the raiders harrying the shores of the Six Duchies, although I don’t want to say too much about that because spoilers. Beyond the Wit (yawn) there is also a nifty form of magic called the Skill, which looks like it will be explored more in later novels. Basically, I am getting pretty invested and can’t wait to read more of it. And I’m only on Book 1!
Highly recommended. This book really deserves 5 stars, but I’m stealing one because of the regrettable lack of ladies. Still an awesome novel though.