Robin Hobb – Royal Assassin

This is one of my all-time favorite fantasy series but unlike with most trilogies, it was the middle book that I liked best. I figure this must be a Robin Hobb thing because it also happened with the second trilogy, The Liveship Traders. Or maybe I’m just weird and have a thing for volume two.

by Robin Hobb

published: Voyager 1997 (1996)
pages: 752
copy: paperback
series: The Farseer Trilogy #2

my rating: 10/10

first sentence: Why is it forbidden to write down specific knowledge of the magics?

Young Fitz, the illegitimate son of the noble Prince Chivalry, is ignored by all royalty except the devious King Shrewd, who has had him tutored in the dark arts of the assassin. He has barely survived his first, soul-shattering mission, and returns to the court where he is thrown headfirst into the tumult of royal life. With the King near death, and Fitz’s only ally off on a seemingly hopeless quest, the throne itself is threatened. Meanwhile, the treacherous Red Ship Raiders have renewed their attacks on the Six Duchies, slaughtering the inhabitants of entire seaside towns. In this time of great peril, it soon becomes clear that the fate of the kingdom may rest in Fitz’s hands – and his role in its salvation may require the ultimate sacrifice.

The ending of Assassin’s Apprentice left me surprised, shocked, shaken, and wanting more. Robin Hobb did not spend all those pages in book one setting up characters for nothing. In this volume, we dive straight into action, not needing to find out who is who anymore. We know everybody and have formed some sort of opinion on their character. The author can thusly use every single one of these 752 pages to drive the plot forward, to have these characters develop and grow and to offer us, her readers, moments of heart-wrenching agony, of suspense and pleasure, of fear and horror.

You can say what you want about Hobb’s slow beginnings, she is a superb writer. What she does with language is outstanding and has never failed to draw me in – even in the really boring books. Fitz grows up a lot in this novel, not only because he hits a certain age but also because his duties – suddenly multiplied – demand it of him. There is a war going on and nobody in the entire kingdom is sure why. The Red Ship Raiders continue to “forge” people, kidnapping them, taking away their souls, and sending them back as lifeless husks who behave like zombies. Even without this threat from the outside, prince Regal and his ambition for the crown offer enough intrigue to fill an entire book. Fitz stays loyal to Verity and does what he can to help him stay alive so he can follow King Shrewd to the throne.
But Fitz is also a little preoccupied. A romance of his own has just started to bud and there is another creature in his life that demands attention and love. The cover of the new paperback edition may tip you off about the identity of said creature.

It is hard to put into words what I felt while reading this book. I had grown to love the characters (and hate some of them, too) in the first novel, so emotionally I wasn’t prepared to see them go through hell again. Fitz does get some precious moments of happiness but Robin Hobb wouldn’t be Robin Hobb if she didn’t end up putting her protagonist thorugh the worst kind of torture she could think of. And, masochist as that must sound, I really enjoy reading this. As Fitz is a first person narrator, I was never truly worried for his life but, trust me, there are enough other things you can worry about. And I got incredibly invested in the fae of this fictional cast of characters.

The Fool, Kettricken, Verity, Burrich, and even King Shrewd revealed new facets of their personalities and made the story just that much more interesting. It was like I grew with Fitz, learning to see the bigger picture and getting hints and ideas about what is really going on. This being the middle novel of a trilogy, hints is all we get and the book ends in quite a cliffhanger.

A ten out of ten rating is rare and this is the first book I am reviewing on this blog to deserve it. If you can write 752 pages of pure enjoyment and make me dream about the characters and hope that they’ll end up safe and sound, all while making me rave about how beautiful the language and writing style is, then you’ve truly deserved your ten points. Re-reads have not diminished my opinion of this book, merely strenghtened it. Even if you didn’t love Assassin’s Apprentice, give this one a try. If it doesn’t pull you into the Six Duchies, then Robin Hobb may just not be for you.

THE GOOD: Incredible characters, beautiful language, a kick-ass suspenseful plot and way more action than book one. Also, bonding with animals.
THE BAD: Uhm… you have to make it through book one first?
THE VERDICT: One of my favorite books of all genres with a great protagonist and an even more memorable and mysterious side character, the Fool.

RATING: 10/10 Perfection!

The Farseer Trilogy:

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

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