Robin Hobb – Assassin’s Apprentice

It took me two tries to even finish the book – how could I know it would turn out to be one of my favourite fantasy novels ever? By now, I have re-read these books many times and am probably quite biased (if you know what’s coming, you’re more willing to put up with a slow beginning). I’m just saying…

by Robin Hobb

published: Voyager/Spectra 1995
pages: 480
copy: paperback
series: The Farseer Trilogy #1

my rating: 7,5/10 (on first reading)
9/10 (after several re-reads)

first sentence: A history of the six Duchies is of necessity a history of its ruling family, the Farseers.

Young Fitz is the bastard son of the noble Prince Chivalry, raised in the shadow of the royal court by his father’s gruff stableman. He is treated like an outcast by all the royalty except the devious King Shrewd, who has him secretly tutored in the arts of the assassin. For in Fitz’s blood runs the magic Skill–and the darker knowledge of a child raised with the stable hounds and rejected by his family. As barbarous raiders ravage the coasts, Fitz is growing to manhood. Soon he will face his first dangerous, soul-shattering mission. And though some regard him as a threat to the throne, he may just be the key to the survival of the kingdom.

He may not captivate you on the first page, but Fitz is one of the most memorable and beloved characters I have ever read about. He tells his story as a grown man, starting from his childhood and how he first came to Buckkeep castle. While stablemaster Burrich raises him, he receives, in secret, training from the dark and mysterious Chade, on how to be an assassin. For a very long time, this is not a swash-buckeling adventure story, it is the story of a little boy, trying to find his place in a court whose rules he doesn’t understand. Yet. As Fitz grows and learns, he evolves and shows the readers a bigger picture of the world surrounding him. His world may start out mainly as the stables and the castle but soon political events and the threat of war draw him into the Six Duchies’ history.

This is a slow book. Do not expect action around every corner or sword fights in every chapter. Fitz’ first person narrative is extremely character-driven and for those who enjoy layered, three-dimensional cast, this will be a pleasure. That said, the last 100 pages or so are so full of action, you won’t want to stop after book 1. The first time reading this, I had some trouble getting into the story, mainly because it felt like nothing was happening. After a few reads, I must say that this is simply not true. Things do happen, they’re just not obvious if you don’t know the players in the game, the political situation and the characters yet. Do not despair! Read on and you will be rewarded.

Robin Hobb does not only have a huge vocabulary, she also has a knack of finding just the right words for what she wants to say. Stylistically, this is a masterpiece (as are any of Hobb’s books that I’ve read so far). She also seems to enjoy putting her protagonists through agony in every single novel she writes. Without conflict, there can be no growth. So Fitz, shunned and misunderstood, has no choice but to get up every time he gets knocked down and make the best of it. There are quite a few scenes in this book that make me cry every single time I read them. Knowing what’s coming doesn’t help – which is all the more proof of Hobb’s writing skill.

Apart from Fitz, there is a hugely interesting cast of side characters, most prominently so probably the Fool. He (or she) is never quite tangible and you can’t be sure if he’s on your side or not. That’s only part of what makes him so intriguing. The other part is his role in the bigger game – and that’s where I stop talking about it. Just find out for yourselves.

This book – and the whole series – counts among my long-term favourites. I still wish I could wipe my memory of Fitz’ story and start all over again. It’s that good.

THE GOOD: Beautiful language, characters that feel real, interesting idea of magic and very good court intrigue.
THE BAD: Very slow start, may appeal more to women (despite an almost all-male cast).
THE VERDICT: A must read for anyone who calls themselves a fan of the fantasy genre.

RATING: 9/10  Almost perfect

The Farseer Trilogy:

  1. Assassin’s Apprentice
  2. Royal Assassin
  3. Assassin’s Quest

4 thoughts on “Robin Hobb – Assassin’s Apprentice

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