Thoughts on Robin Hobb’s ‘Assassin’s Apprentice’

I’ve read several adult fantasy books that have done a good job pulling me into their story. But most of these books are part of a series. And unfortunately, it’s been a really long time since I’ve read a series that has held up to the promise it held in the first book.Some of them peter out when the author realized they could make more money spinning their story endlessly, or the series loses focus and cause the story to come to a grinding halt (George R.R. Martin, I am still annoyed at you and “A Feast For Crows.”)

So I’m hoping desperately that The Farseer Trilogy as a whole doesn’t collapse in a similar manner. Because I really loved the first book.

The story is told by FitzChivalry Farseer, the bastard son of  a prince who has lived in his biological father’s castle from the age of six. It’s a rather awkward position for him, given that he’s the son of the royal prince, who is childless by his wife and first in line to be king. That position doesn’t get easier when his father steps down in the line of succession because of Fitz’s arrival at the castle. Fitz himself is raised by his father’s ex-stableman, and grows up relative obscurity in the palace. Until the king of the Six Duchies, Shrewd ( actually the king’s name, more on that later) decides to have Fitz trained in “the fine art of diplomatic assassination.”

The book is vague on ages and on time passing; by my understanding, Fitz is about twelve, if not younger, when this slant to his education is introduced. And the reasoning for this choice of training is stated blatantly by the king while young Fitz is standing right there :

A bastard, Regal, is a unique thing. Put a signet ring on his hand and send him forth, and you have created a diplomat that no foreign ruler will dare to turn away. He may be safely sent where a prince of the blood may not be risked. Imagine the uses for one who is and yet is not of the royal bloodline. Hostage exchanges. Marital alliances. Quiet work. The diplomacy of the knife.

So right from the beginning, Fitz is plunged into something less than savory, and I loved the story for not immediately plunging him into a crisis of conscience about it. He’s young- the most articulate thing he can say against this ‘diplomacy’ is: “I don’t much like it. The idea of killing people.” But he’s not exactly in a position to refuse, and he goes on with his training. And- eventually- he does go on to put that training to use.

As a backdrop, we have the kingdom of the Six Duchies, over which King Shrewd rules. This kingdom is being attacked by raiders who inflict the incredibly disturbing process of ‘Forging’ on the people they capture. When ‘Assassin’s Apprentice’ ends, it’s still not clear what Forging is, but those who undergo the process lose every semblance of soul or personality. They retain memories and reflexes and the power of speech, but after someone has been Forged, they are stripped of all human feeling.

Ugh. Anyway, these events- and the resulting political mess as Shrewd and his son Verity try to deal with the threat- are what Fitz has to deal with while growing up.

If the story had been told strictly as it was happening, Fitz probably would have annoyed me to death. Something about the ostracized orphan trope tends to annoy me, probably because it’s very easy for the main character to come across as whiny and self-centered.

For that reason, I was nervous when I saw the novel was written in first person. But Hobb counteracted my fears by having the narrative progress as if Fitz is writing his tale. Each chapter is begun with snippets of a history that I’m fairly sure is written by Fitz. It gives the impression of time having passed on. The story itself is told with an element of tranquility that makes the more depressing sections bearable. You get the sense, while reading, that Fitz has moved past his rather traumatic and difficult childhood, and is able to look at it with detached eyes. And that, to me, is an impressive feat of telling and growing.

Stuff that stood out: King Shrewd- manipulative bastard par excellence. He may be a secondary character, but I don’t want to call him minor, since he’s behind the scenes for pretty much everything. I really really really want to see more of him the next books.

Fitz- I like him. He’s got flaws galore and is prone to arrogance and stupidity like most teenagers, but unlike most, he actually seems to learn from his mistakes. Probably what I liked most is that he rang true in his reactions to the events and people around him. He was believable.

Patience- I want to know everything about her. How can I not love a princess who learns the art of tattooing for her own amusement? She might be a little insane, but I don’t care. I love that she was the one who fought to get Fitz a better education despite the fact that he’s her husband’s child by another woman. Please let her be in the next books (now that I’ve said this, she’ll probably disappear forever).

Chade- My mind was blown by his connection to Shrewd. I want more backstory for him right now.

-The system of naming royalty after virtues- regardless of whether or not they have them- is amazing.

-As are the snippets of history at the beginning of each chapter. I want to read this history book, please.

Stuff that could have been better:  Development of the antagonists was a little shaky. I feel like there was more telling than showing when it came to Galen, Fitz’s Skill teacher. This is probably just due to the limitations of the narrative, but I still think he should have received a bit more attention than he got.

Passage of time. I spent a lot of the novel unclear about how old Fitz was during various key events. We’d get whole chapters spent on events taking place over the course of a day, and then have a couple years pass in a single sentence. I don’t mind this method of dealing with time, as long as I can still keep track of how old the main character is during the crucial events. But I lost track of Fitz’s age a lot.

Stuff I want cleared up:  The Fool. He kind of freaks me out, but at the same time he’s fascinating. I don’t want so much backstory that his mystery dies, but the fact that he can practically pop out of nowhere and predict the future is enough for me to want to know more about him.

The Forging. How the hell do you suck the soul and personality out of someone? And why are the raiders choosing this particular method of attacking the Six Duchies?

As I said, I want to know more about Chade, Fitz’s mentor in ‘the art of diplomatic assassination.’ I think there’s a whole lot more to him than we’ve gotten from just this book.

Off to write a paper I should have started work on hours ago. And then an article and then reading. And then maybe- if I’m lucky- “Royal Assassin”

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4 thoughts on “Thoughts on Robin Hobb’s ‘Assassin’s Apprentice’

  1. Yay, first post! This book sounds quite interesting… I guess I should add this to my continually growing list of books to read when I get the chance.

    • Well, I loved the first book, so I’m hoping the rest of the series holds up to the promise of the first. Thank you! Once school gets off my back a little (hahaha), I should be able to have something…

  2. Pingback: Let the Games Begin. | I Could Be Arguing In My Spare Time

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