Assassin’s Apprentice [book review]

Robin Hobb. Assassin's Apprentice.

Assassin’s Apprentice is a novel by Robin Hobb. Six months ago, this author was unknown to me. By random chance, I’d found copies of two of her novels on the shelves of a local book exchange, and I snapped them up, hoping for light reading. I was very impressed. Soon, I discovered Robin Hobb was (1) a pseudonym, and (2) that the Rain Wild Chronicles were part of a larger cycle of novels she had written, all in a fairly-well developed fantasy world.

With that in mind, I picked up Assassin’s Apprentice. Like her Dragon novels, I was hesitant to set my hopes too high.  I could envision her attempts at this genre descending into cliches that would both insult my intelligence, and waste my time.

Oh, how wrong I was.  To my great pleasure, I loved this novel! It follows the coming-of-age story of a young lad, the bastard son of the king-in-waiting, who is raised in the court of intrigue. To keep him from becoming a tool “wielded in the hands of our enemies”, the king sees to his training the secret lessons of becoming an assassin.

Rather than write a stock character from a roleplay game, FitzChivalry Farseer is an engaging character from the beginning. Early in life, he perceives his threat to the throne, just by the mere act of being alive. This, more than anything, shapes his personality. He must be silent and unseen, in order to survive. His guardian, Burrich, is the King’s stablemaster, and teaches him what it means to dedicate oneself to a task. Young Fitz becomes the King’s Man,which, he soon realizes, requires all his life, up to, and beyond his, death. It is a question we must all struggle with: fidelity and loyalty come with a cost, and a burden of time, resources, and giving of oneself. He constantly bemoans the fact that his life isn’t his, but the king’s. Would you kill your best friend, at the command of your king?

Just an aside–when I was young, I remember asking a friend how he could spend ten hours a day, six days a week, at a local hated plywood mill.  His answer stays with me to this day: “I do it because I love my family, and want them to be happy.” That statement stunned me into thirty years of thoughts, where I still ponder how much I’d give to make my family a happy one, even at the cost of my own unhappiness. OK – that was a bit off the beaten path. Back to Assassin’s Apprentice.

Hobb’s characters are nice and tight, fantastically well-formed and believable, despite the fantastic, slightly-magical setting. She doesn’t overextend herself by creating a complex and arcane magic to tinker incessantly with (Brandon Sanderson comes to mind), but talks about two kinds of magic: The Wit–also known as Beast Magic–and The Skill, a mental magic that allows its users to suggest and send thoughts to others. Moreover, the magic is culturally bound. The Wit is abhorred by most of the population, considered an evil and dangerous magic. The skill is primarily the domain of nobility.

Fitz’s land, The Six Duchies, is steeped in the politics and machinations of its uncles, and court nobles. The trees and plants, and even the food are much like our world’s, and lend a realism and credibility to Hobb’s created world.

Her work is very satisfying, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is bored with the pedestrian high fantasy that usually checker bookstore and library shelves.

5 of 5 Stars.


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