by Robin Hobb
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.
Robin Hobb is one of fantasy fiction’s best-loved authors, and I’ve been meaning to open the door into her Realm of the Elderlings for years.
Fitz is a very young boy when he’s left at the doors of the palace keep by his maternal grandfather, who no longer thinks it should be his responsibility to feed and clothe someone fathered by the crown prince, Chivalry. Fitz’s arrival that night changes everything.
His father abdicates from the throne, never seeing his son and leaving his father and two brothers to rule the kingdom, and takes his barren wife to an estate in the countryside, and Fitz is left in the care of Chivalry’s man, Burrich, who takes care of the horses, hawks and hounds. When Fitz is eventually noticed by his paternal grandfather, he’s ordered to train as an assassin, and Fitz is thrust from a life as a stable hand into a world of power and politics.
Assassin’s Apprentice is an incredibly difficult book to sum up because there’s so much to it and, for the most part, it’s a very quiet novel. For me to tell you about the world’s magic systems and Fitz’s relationship with them would feel like spoiling a lot of the book, so this is a book that definitely benefits being experienced – especially because it’s clear that Hobb is laying the groundwork for the many books that follow in this epic series.
I must admit I did struggle with this book at first, even though I do tend to enjoy slow stories. I think one of my issues with Assassin’s Apprentice is that we know from both the title and the blurb what Fitz is going to become, but it takes quite a while for us to get there and I often found myself wondering where the book was going. That it’s not predictable – especially considering its very traditional high fantasy set-up – is refreshing in a genre crowded by assassins and royal courts, but the writing is so rich that sometimes I felt like I’d been reading for hours and had barely made any progress.
Like so many fantasy novels, though, Assassin’s Apprentice is a book that rewards patience. From around the 100-page mark I felt like the true story had begun and, as I mentioned before, it’s clear that everything we’re told contributes to building this fantastical world we’re in and Fitz’s part in it.
In fact in a way that groundwork is really important considering this is a book told not only in first person, but also in hindsight, which means Fitz himself isn’t an entirely reliable narrator. Not necessarily because he’s purposefully lying to us, but because there are certain things he experiences or sees as an eight-year-old that we can understand much better than he did as a child. Alternatively, sometimes I was so far into Fitz’s head that small twists that should have been obvious ended up surprising me because I was seeing the world through Fitz’s eyes.
Having the story told in hindsight, however, meant I wasn’t always as worried for Fitz as I could have been. I never had to worry about whether or not he was going to survive because I knew he had – otherwise he wouldn’t be telling me his tale himself.
Fitz himself I did like a lot, though, and I have a feeling he’s going to be one of those characters who stays with me as I read more of the series and watch his experiences throughout his life. This boy doesn’t have it easy, and I get the feeling Hobb’s going to give him one hell of a ride.
I loved so many of the side characters too, and I think Hobb has a real talent for writing believable, real side characters I want to know more about without making me wish I was following them instead of Fitz. That’s a real skill when so many side characters often feel like side characters, but each of Hobb’s characters feel like they have their own stuff going on that’s just as important as what Fitz is going through – if not more.
Ultimately I’m looking forward to reading more from this series and getting further into this world and learning more about Fitz and all the people who surround him – I particularly love Chade, and I’d like to see more of Patience, too – and I’m hoping to become Robin Hobb trash in the process.