Saturday, December 5, 2015

Assassin's Apprentice Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Robin Hobb
Publisher: Bantam
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: Farseer Trilogy Book One
Pages: 425

The Farseer Trilogy has come to be regarded as a modern fantasy classic.  In the mid 1990’s, Robin Hobb began to create grittier styled stories that many modern fantasy writers now emulate, and the first of these stories was Assassin’s Apprentice.

Told in first person readers are introduced to Fitz, the bastard son of Prince Chivalry, who because of his royal birth gets sucked into being trained into an assassin.  He is the masterstroke of this character driven fantasy, and one of the fantasy genre’s most likeable characters.

Besides having great characters, the brilliance of this book also lies in its ability to effortlessly suck you into the world. The Six Duchies may not be as elaborately laid out as Middle Earth, but the world feels very real none-the-less.  Assassin’s Apprentice is one of modern fantasy’s classics, and every bit of it is worthy of that title.

Six year old Fitz is left in the care of the Farseer family, the rulers of the powerful Six Duchies Kingdoms.  He is the bastard child of the King-in-Waiting, Chivalry.  Growing up in Buckkeep Castle he is raised by Chivalry’s stable master Burrich. Fitz eventually gets the attention of King Shrewd who offers to elevate his place within the castle if he agrees to serve him loyally – which turns into, amongst other things, training to become the king’s assassin.

While Fitz grows up, the kingdom begins to see an increased number of raids by the Redship Raiders.  After each successive raid, mysterious things begin happening to the people who lived there.  Fitz must deal with these threats to the kingdom, while not invoking the ire of certain members of the royal family who believe his claim to the throne is dangerous.

Assassin’s Apprentice feels like a great in-between for the quest driven, ordinary man rising to the occasion, fantasy of J.R.R. Tolkien and the gritty, violent, political fantasy of George R.R. Martin.  The violence never gets overwhelming, yet you have to fear for the main characters’s lives; they can be killed instantly. Decisions have consequences in the Farseer Trilogy, much like they do in Martin’s books – the results of these are a lot more reminiscent of the real world we live in, rather than a fantasy world.

As a bastard Fitz must learn to take a beating, but still be able to keep his head above water as he comes of age in a dangerous world, surrounded by dangerous political opponents.  Fitz isn’t an ass kicking action hero assassin, rather he’s a survivor. The assassin scenes don’t come with over-the-top dramatic flair that’s typically associated with the position, rather it’s done efficiently and discreetly – poison in a glass of wine and no-one’s the wiser.

Magic is present in two forms in this novel.  The first is called the Wit, and it allows a person to telepathically communicate with animals, but it has the added danger of corrupting the human and turning him into a beast as well.  The second is called the Skill, and it allows a person to telepathically communicate and influence other people’s thoughts.  The Skill opens up plenty of long distant communication for characters, as well as acting as a manipulative force.  The magic system can be vague, but it is never overly powerful, rather it’s just another added danger for the characters.

Shorter length epic fantasy novels and single fantasy novels that cover a span of many years typically have problems with pacing.  Assassins Apprentice, which is shorter for an epic fantasy novel at around 400 pages, and covers a span of many years doesn’t have either of these problems.  Needless to say Robin Hobb has pacing down as time seems to fade into the background, but the author never loses sight of it.

If you’ve read the Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss you will see a lot of Hobb’s influence on that book.  Both stories are told in a trilogy format, they are told in first person (KKC is mostly in first person), the world setting is gritty, and both of the main characters, Kvothe and Fitz, are condemned underdogs by the societies they live in.  I would recommend this trilogy to people who enjoyed Rothfuss’ book, and I would recommend it to people who are looking for a gritty fantasy story that has the violence aspect toned down a bit.

Score: 9.8

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