“Fantasy as it ought to be written . . . Robin Hobb’s books are diamonds in a sea of zircons.”—George R. R. Martin
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 as 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.
Some books cast a long shadow. Their reputation alone makes you eager to pick them up, but it’s not always clear what you are going to get. Years ago I bounced off of The Assassin’s Apprentice because I “didn’t like first-person POV fantasy.” If I had left it alone and never returned, I would have missed what has been one of my favorite reads in recent years.
The Assassin’s Apprentice, at its core, is a tale of court intrigue and the drama that unfolds in the Six Duchies as told from the perspective of Fitz, the bastard of a prince that is heir to the current King. Fitz, as we are shown through his story, exists both as part of this world and beside it, but is never fully embraced by the nobility.
The plot makes a dramatic shift as he becomes the apprentice of the castle’s master of assassins, a man called Chade.
One thing that amazed me about Hobb’s writing was that the pacing never really stayed on one thing for too long, but almost every subplot flowed naturally and seamlessly to the next. There were betrayals, friendships, mysteries, odd bits of history, and so much more.
The only plot that really didn’t work for me on its own was the Red Ship Raiders that appear in the second half of the book. I did enjoy that plot, but I was hoping for a bit more resolution or context to what exactly was happening, but I have been told that is at the heart of the next book in this series.
But really, this is all besides the point. Let me gush.
Robin Hobb’s character work is among the best I have ever read. I went into this book admiring Abercrombie for his work with characterization and left with a Robin Hobb-sized place in my heart where the good Lord Grimdark used to exist.
What Robin Hobb does with characters, motivations, and conflict is sublime. There were a few relatively low-stakes moments that felt like the world was ending and all because Fitz relays the profoundly human feelings we all experience: love, loss, grief, friendship, and neglect. The side characters also all seemed to have their own rich inner lives and motivations.
Nearly every character gets time to shine, and it is impossible not to think of them as real. In some ways, they feel as real as you or me.
Even the use of magic (though I did find myself wishing we got more explanation early on) was interesting and varied and felt like a natural part of this world and these characters.
And all of this is juggled expertly as we hurdled towards what inevitably had to come.
The final act.
I didn’t see that coming the way it unfolded, but I loved every twisty moment of it.
Robin Hobb did something special with this book. I already miss the characters and find myself wishing I had some spare audible credits (even though I’ve got an incredible slate of books to review now).
Go get this one. It’s incredible.