I came upon Assassin’s Apprentice way too late! I loved every bit of this book. Robin Hobb’s prose is brilliant, making for many memorable passages. The way she lets us see the world through Fitz’s eyes is masterful. Assassin’s Apprentice is an epic fantasy, but slow-paced and character-driven. Considering the writing style, I’d recommend it more to adult readers, but young adults can read it as well, of course.
Fitz is a royal bastard, son of Chivalry Farseer. He often feels lonely and friendless, his only source of companionship being his link to animals. When Fitz is finally adopted into the royal household, he needs to embrace a new life where he learns weaponry, scribing, and courtly manners. However, in secret, he trains to be a royal assassin.
“We left. Walking uphill and into the wind. That suddenly seemed a metaphor for my whole life.“
Despite this book being about becoming an assassin, it has a slow pace. There is much time spent on the relationships Fitz has with the other characters. His relationship with Burrich is the most central one, as we see how Burrich struggles with suddenly caring for the child of his master. While beasts are no problem for him, taking care of a small boy is a different thing altogether. The Fool is another interesting character. He shows up at several key moments and appears to have some insight about the future, although he always speaks in riddles. The Royal family also plays a large role, with Regal being a complete ass; King Shrewd being absolutely true to his name; and Verity, being more the soldier than King-in-waiting, always telling it as it is. Let’s also not forget Chade, who teaches Fitz how to become an assassin for the King.
“Don’t do what you can’t undo, until you’ve considered what you can’t do once you’ve done it.“
Honestly, this book has so many wonderful characters, it’s too many to mention. The book is a great example of characterization done right. Though all we learn about the other characters is from Fitz’ perspective, there are often little details that hint us that perhaps Fitz might have the wrong impression or interpretation. Also, since ‘future Fitz’ is narrating the story, thinking back about these earlier years, he sometimes tells us when he sees things differently now than he did then.
“Too late to apologize, I’ve already forgiven you.“
The world created in Assassin’s Apprentice is full of vibrant details, and I felt completely immersed in the story. Besides Fitz’s relation with other humans, he has a strong bond with the animals around him, especially dogs. He has control over a magic-system called the ‘Wit’, which lets him form a mind-connection with animals. He can tell how they feel and what they think, which is really cool.
The other magic-system present in the book is called the ‘Skill’. When these two were first introduced, I thought they were one and the same, but there is a difference. While the Wit is about one’s connection to animals, the Skill lets you in another person’s mind.
“When you cut pieces out of the truth to avoid looking like a fool you end up looking like a moron instead.“
Hobb has an impeccable writing style, full of poetic descriptions, philosophical musings, and life-lessons. She writes in a way that makes you care about Fitz and all those around him, taking you on an emotional journey. While the writing is slow-paced, it all builds in tension to an epic, emotional, and suddenly fast-paced conclusion.
I absolutely loved this book, but I know it’s not going to appeal to everyone. Don’t let the title fool you: this is not a fact-paced action story about a boy becoming an assassin. This is a story about a boy growing up and finding his place in the world, who just happens to fall into the assassin trade. If you love slow-paced stories with great characters, rich world-building, and great prose, then this is the book for you. The beginning of this series is off to a great start!
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