Why do people like Robin Hobb's Assassin's Apprentice?

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Initial post: Jul 29, 2009 1:19:55 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 22, 2010 10:43:20 PM PDT
I just finished the book and I can't figure out why anyone would like it. (I've read about 220 Fantasy Novels.)

It's a Fantasy World, but there really isn't anything fantastic about it. It has a castle. That's it. The only magic in the book is the ability to communicate great distances (magic cell phones.)

The first 300 pages just have Fitz doing chores. There's more in the book about picking berries, table manners, and brushing horses, than anything exciting.

All of the characters are passive. The kingdom gets attacked by raiders and they don't do anything. They just take it. I could get together with 6 of my friends and sack the place.

All of Fitz's teachers beat him and he just takes it. He doesn't seem to grow from his experiences. He just takes beatings.
He trained for 300 pages to leave poisoned food on the ground?!

Mundane events are explained in tedious detail. One part of the book says that the trip to the mountain kingdom was uneventful. The next 10 pages describe the uneventful journey. Who does that?!?!?!?! Cut to the damn kingdom already.

I thought it was an uneventful story, with emotionless characters, in the most boring fantasy world that I've ever read.

I don't understand why people are raving about this book.
Can someone explain to me what they liked about it?

I won't be mean. Your opinion is your opinion, but I'm just really curious to hear why people thought this book was good.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 29, 2009 1:32:07 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 29, 2009 1:47:10 PM PDT
Otis Thecat says:
The characters were outstanding. Best character development in a fantasy series ever (the jury still being out on George RR Martin's oustanding Song of Ice and Fire series). If you didn't see any development in Fitz (not to mention Chade, Burrich, Verity, Shrewd and the Fool), I respectfully submit that you missed a large portion of the story. Granted, Hobb likes to beat mercilessly on her protagonist and that gets a little old from time to time.

Other authors may do a better job regarding world building (a lot of people like Tad Williams) and better magic systems (Brandon Sanderson is good at this) but that is not what Hobb is about. Her focus is on the characters. In a nutshell, if you don't like Fitz, Chade, et al, you will not like the series. Some people want more action-based fantasy. If that's your thing, there are plenty of authors better suited to your taste.

Personally, I loved this series and could not put down each book. Just one person's humble opinion.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 29, 2009 4:57:18 PM PDT
Regarding Fitz, he gets abused quite a bit. I think around page 280, I became numb to him. He just kept taking a beating and I may have lost interest.

If you look at Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, or the Karate Kid, all 3 of these characters get dumped on in the beginning, but they change. Luke goes from unappreciated farmboy to hero of the galaxy. Harry Potter makes new friends, discovers he's a gifted Quittich player, and saves the day. Daniel Larusso gets bullied and earns respect. In Fitz's case, he gets dumped on and never really makes that leap. He's so passive, it is hard to root for him. The girl he likes goes off with some other guy and he doesn't even say anything. He just keeps taking the abuse. Because the abuse goes on for so long, he feels more like a loser, than an underdog. It's really hard to root for a loser.

The world was so much like our own, it also felt boring. There were plenty of details, but they weren't interesting details. A contrast here would be Brandon Sanderson's magic system, the falling ash, and the mists. I want to learn more about his world because it's so unique and interesting. I don't really care about brushing horses, picking berries, or aristocratic table manners. Those things aren't interesting to me.

I also don't understand the people of the Mountain Kingdom. They find out Fitz is an assassin on a mission to take out the Prince and they have lunch with him. If I found an enemy assassin in my kingdom, I'd have him executed immediately. Everyone in the book was so passive, it strained my suspension of disbelief.

And you are right about the action. David Gemmell is my favorite fantasy author. His books are action packed with violent manly action! But Gemmell also has good character development. He'll have farmers become heroes, or ruthless mercenaries gain a conscience and eventually do the right thing.

The lack of action, mundane detail, and abused protagonist really made it impossible for me to enjoy this book. But I still don't understand why it has so many 5 star ratings. What's there to like about Fitz? He really didn't make the leap from zero to hero.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 29, 2009 4:57:20 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Jul 29, 2009 4:58:17 PM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 31, 2009 7:56:46 PM PDT
S. Quinlan says:
Interesting comparison to Sanderson. I feel exactly the opposite. Sanderson's world seems not at all as complex and fleshed out as Hobbs. But the magic in Sanderson has put me off from the very beginning. I read the first two final empire novels even though all the stuff about the ash, the well, and the strange business with "burning" metals to get powers constantly got in the way. It got so bad that I abandoned Vol 3 before I finished it.

Hobbs' world is so compelling, the writing so smooth and flowing, that I was really surprised to find such negative reviews, even though the overall rating is 4 stars.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 31, 2009 9:53:31 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 31, 2009 9:54:46 PM PDT
I'm only halfway through Sanderson's first book: Mistborn.
I visualize all of the scenes in every book that I read and I'll even re-read scenes often to "get them right" in my head. Sanderson doesn't have as many details as Hobb, but his world is creative. It's a fun place for my imagination to go. Ashfalls... Red Skies... Mist Creatures... I like building the scenes in my imagination. For me, it's fun to think about these things.

When I read Assassin's Apprentice, it was detailed, but the only thing interesting was the castle. Everything else was just like our world. I don't need a detailed explanation on how to pick berries because I know how to do that already. I did like the part where Chade was teaching Fitz how to be more perceptive and I was hoping that was used more, but it wasn't. I was also hoping for more out of Fool. He was an interesting wildcard type character. Hobb's magic system was interesting, but it wasn't enough. I wanted more of it.

I think my main problem with Assassin's Apprentice was that Fitz didn't improve enough in skill or personality for me to really start cheering for him. I didn't expect him to go from a poor bastard child to the greatest battle mage the world has ever seen in one book, but he didn't change enough.

He starts off as a poor bastard who was abandoned. He's got nothing except an Oliver Twist like lifestyle. As the book progresses, he's still pitiful, but in a different way. He ends up being a 20 year old friendless virgin who still gets abused and can't seem to keep a dog.

I may have felt differently if he had some friends, or really progressed because of his training. Maybe his Assassin training would teach him how to climb castle walls and he actually feels a sense of freedom while he is up there. Maybe that gives him enough courage to ask out a cute girl. Maybe he uses some of his training to spy on Molly so he can do something nice for her.

I think Otis was right, too. Hobb beats down on protagonists so much for so long, it gets frustrating. I think the BEAT DOWN to REWARD ratio was too much in favor of the BEAT DOWN.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 8, 2009 3:32:15 PM PDT
It took me an unusually long time to really get into Assassin's Apprentice, but from there I was hooked. Most of Hobb's books seem to be more based on the relationships between characters instead of action. I did feel for Fitz. I think what I liked most about him was that he wasn't perfect. He didn't have some amazing way to handle every situation. There are so many ways he could have done things better, but really, he's just a kid. I could identify with what he was going through. I felt that he grew as the book went on, and certainly through the rest of the series and the Tawny Man series as well. There are some small sections of the series I found tedious, but overall I devoured these books.

It kind of sounds like what I found endearing, you found pathetic. It is interesting how situations in books affect people in very different ways. I agree with Otis regarding the character development. I enjoyed the characters in Assassin's Apprentice. Fitz is one of my favorite all time characters. The Fool was such a unique character and you don't even begin to really know him in Assassin's Apprentice. I would love to read more about Burrich, Verity, and Chivalry. I'd buy a prequel in a second. So I guess the answer comes down to characters and relationships. I felt so much empathy for Fitz, and wanted to know how all these relationships would develop.

Posted on Sep 16, 2009 11:39:10 AM PDT
Truthfully, I am a big fan of the Farseer and Tawny Man series as a whole. The first book hooked me because there was so much detail that I felt I really knew these characters yet there were still mystery's to solve. Like the character of the fool. There's was something about him... And how did Chade know and do all the things he did.

After I finished both series I was blown away at how deeply I had gotten to know the character and how many loose ends she closed.

Try the second book, I gaurantee you'll be as hooked as I was.

Posted on Sep 18, 2009 11:56:49 PM PDT
Hey, have any of you read The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss? It is a very similar book to Assassin's Apprentice and I really liked it.
In both books the main character chronicles the beginning years of his life.
The difference between the books is that Fitz is extremely passive, where Kvothe does everything in his power to get out of his bad situations.
I found myself giving up on Fitz after a while, but I was cheering for Kvothe.

Did anyone here feel the same way?

Posted on Sep 19, 2009 7:17:41 AM PDT
The Name of the Wind is a great book. I'm looking forward to the next in the series. Fitz and Kvothe are so completely different. In truth, I like Fitz better, though I probably would pick Name of the Wind as the better book. Kvothe is a genius and great at everything, with more confidence than could possibly be good for him. Fitz is much more real to me in that he is flawed. As a young boy he does feel and act powerless. As a reader you know how much power he really could have, but he doesn't have a clue. I think you have an advantage of knowing Kvothe as a man first, not that he's much different as a boy. Fitz takes a while to grow up, and even then, he's not as perfect as Kvothe. If only Fitz had been raised by the Edema Ruh!

One thing I found the same about these books is my disinterest in the main female characters. I never got the appeal of Molly or Denna. Am I the only one?

Posted on Sep 19, 2009 11:24:37 AM PDT
I agree with you there. I liked Fitz as a person over Kvothe. But it gets frustrating trying to root for Fitz when he misses loads of opportunities to improve his situation. If Fitz had a Mr. Miyagi, he woulda been so much better.

Molly - she was ok. I felt bad for her because of her alcoholic dad. She worked hard in spite of her hardship. Then she sorta fizzled out.

Denna - sucks. She's the girl that you put on a pedastal, even though she's not right for you, and you chase her anyway. I understand why Kvothe would chase her though. But a girl like that will only bring you trouble. (I'm speaking from experience...)

Fela is the better choice. She's smart, stable, appreciative, helpful, and cute. But as we grow up, we don't always make the best relationship decisions.

For better female characters, 'Doll Girl' from Brent Weeks's books and the girl from Slumdog Millionaire.

Posted on Sep 19, 2009 11:14:55 PM PDT
I liked Molly when she was younger, but I agree that she fizzled out. One of my favorite female characters is Althea Vestrit from the Liveship series. I'm doubting you'll be reading that series since it is another Hobb book. At least I know that she has written some really great female characters. Molly just wasn't one of them for me and I felt she could have been.

I enjoy Auri from Name of the Wind. I can still hold out hope for Kvothe ditching Denna. :)

I do have Weeks's first two books. I loaned them out but they are definitely on my list to read. So I'll look forward to meeting 'Doll Girl'.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 20, 2009 1:41:20 AM PDT
Oh, Auri was good, too! She was really entertaining. Her insane descriptions of things were great. It was just enough of a clue for you to try and figure out what she was talking about.
The Name of the Wind isn't a timeless classic, but it sure is an entertaining book.

Arya from GRRM's books is one of my favorite female characters.

Just to warn you about the Brent Weeks books. They are the most brutal books I have ever read.
Joe Abercrombie's books are right there with them, too.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 20, 2009 5:25:14 AM PDT
Name of the Wind could be a classic. I think it depends on how the series goes.

Arya is great. I also really enjoy Brienne from his books, and Daenerys as well. So many of my favorite characters are from ASOIAF actually. I'm reading Game of Thrones again right now. I don't usually read anything a second time because there are just so many books to read, but its probably my favorite book. My absolute favorite character in any book has to be Tyrion.

I don't mind brutal. Have you read Steven Erickson? I have the first book of the Malazan series. I started it a few weeks ago, but didn't initially get into it. I haven't given up on it, but it wasn't the right book at the moment for me.

Posted on Mar 20, 2010 11:20:29 AM PDT
Jeremy says:
Kvothe is a Mary Sue. I think that pretty much explains why the name of the wind isn't that great. I really don't see how anyone is comparing it to Robin Hobbs work.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 20, 2010 12:02:34 PM PDT
I couldn't read Steven Erickson. I need to experience a story through the characters, otherwise it just reads like a fictional encyclopedia.

I liked Kvothe better than Fitz. Kvothe struggles and he tries hard and occasionally he fails, but he brushes himself off and keeps on going.
Fitz was way too passive for my tastes.

There are many reasons to compare the works of Rothfuss and Hobb.
The structure of the stories are very similar. Fantasy world, main character talking about his past, starts off young, takes a beating, but keeps going...

Posted on Mar 22, 2010 9:56:18 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 22, 2010 10:03:51 PM PDT
@Poisoned blade: I finished the Weeks books. I enjoyed the fast pace of them, but way too many magical saves in book 3. I preferred Vi to Doll Girl as a character, so I think we have different tastes.

I never did get into Gardens of the Moon. Its still sitting where I left it. Someday...

I also agree there are many reasons to compare Rothfuss and Hobb. They have a similar style. For the most part I'd think that if you like one you'd probably enjoy the other. There are always exceptions though.

Have you read The Warded Man by Peter Brett?

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 22, 2010 10:56:03 PM PDT
Ugh, the Weeks books were BRUTAL!
Characters get demolished!
But overall, the series was good.

I haven't read The Warded Man.
Wow, I just looked at the reviews, it looks good!
I'll pick that one up next... I think.

In reply to an earlier post on May 5, 2010 8:59:11 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 5, 2010 9:13:19 PM PDT
D. Corson says:
Interesting question, Poisoned Blade. It's been a while since I finished the Assassin's trilogy, but I'm a really big fan of it. I think it really gains momentum in books 2 and 3, and the follow-up Fool's trilogy is arguably even better. Maybe Hobb just isn't your cup of tea though, but I would strongly recommend you at least give book 2 a shot before you abandon ship. You make a good point that Assassin's Apprentice starts slowly, and has some mundane sections. I didn't find these to be a serious drawback though, I like how Hobb takes the time to flesh things out. I'm not in a big hurry here, I'm reading these books for leisure and enjoying the ride! I may be remembering the specifics of this book incorrectly here, but I thought there was enough use of the wit, enough clues dropped about the skill and all it's powers (no, not just magic cell phones), and enough horror in the forging/raiding of villages by an evil that's not yet understood to keep me interested. So when you say there's nothing fantastic or magical about the world, I have to disagree. I really liked the interplay between Fitz and Chade, Fitz and Burrich, and got very interested in how things were going to work out with Regal. I also happen to like how Hobb beats up on her protagonists, and how they keep getting up to fight on. And the Fool just rocks, read on and see. Viva Hobb!! Please try book 2 with an open mind.

Posted on Jun 29, 2010 10:44:29 AM PDT
Silver says:
I don't think the Farseer/Tawny Man trilogies can compare to anything else when it comes to characterization. Robin Hobb takes everything to such a deep level. These were actually the only books I've ever dreamed about; they're so magical (at the good times) and soul-crushing (at the bad times) that they truly affected me.
I think Name of the Wind is similar, but no one else besides Kvothe was really well developed. It's only the first book in the series so it can't be compared to a finished trilogy fairly.
Not that Molly was very developed either, but I think that was for her to remain a dream for Fitz.

Posted on Oct 8, 2011 10:31:20 PM PDT
I have to agree with poisoned blade. I was looking for some good books to check out and since this series kept on popping up in so many "best fantasy series ever" lists I figured it would be a good bet. What a horrible choice. The world is so narrow, almost the entire book is spent in the keep or the town around it and nothing happens there except for the most boring "training" and chores the kid has to endure. None of which is the least bit interesting. He only assassinates 1 person, the rest it's just like he's a rat exterminator. Not interesting. The mountain people are the most unbelievable ever. His life is saved by a dog how many times? Everything is so black and white, either you love the bastard and ur a good guy, or u hate the bastard and ur a bad guy. LAME!

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 13, 2011 4:14:54 PM PDT
Otis Thecat says:
you might want to stick to star wars then.

Posted on Jan 15, 2012 7:36:44 AM PST
D. P. Wright says:
I agree with most of you. I've read both series several times. I hate to admit to re-reading too often but I couldn't help it. Just about every character in the series acts like real people. They all have doubts, and get overwhelmed and don't always overcome every bit of adversity that comes their way. It's nice to read a fantasy book where, just like in life, the characters get their butt kicked once in a while and have to deal with it. Just like you and I when we get beat down by life.

As far as world building, it's there, just not in great big chunks. From rocky coastlines to mountains to grain growing plains, they are all there. The different locations are described well and put in relation to one another well. What more can you ask for? Same with the magic. It's there, but it's not constantly in your face. There are no flaming swords or magic knives or robed, pointy hatted mysterious magicians running around casting spells for no apparent reason. Not that I don't read such things, I do, but it does have it's limits.

I guess what I am trying to say is that I find it easy to identify with most of the characters, or at least find them believable. I like a character that is human, who has to think or reason his way through things and sometimes get it wrong. I like that far better than a poorly described hero who simply does the right thing in every situation with no explanation as to how he arrived at the proper action his heroic deed required.

There is action too. It's not over the top, with guts flying and heads rolling all about, but there is enough. The fact that Fitz isn't always looking to go stab someone is refreshing. The sex in the series is minimal and not graphic and certainly not enough that it would keep me from giving the books to my 13 year old.

In all, I just find the whole series irresistible. The atmosphere, the humanity of the characters, and of course the story itself are wonderful and I can't get enough. There is a bit of wiggle room in the end for more books but I don't think there will be. If Hobb ever takes up these characters again I'll be the first one in line to buy it.

I know this is rambling, I'm short on sleep :)

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 8, 2013 1:27:37 AM PDT
I agree with everything poison blade said about boring tedious details, passive characters and lack of action. I could not understand the 5 star ratings either....until last night's book club discussion. 6 of 8 of us gave it 5 stars..and the same number were women. Its not about the fantasy world and action, what appeals to them is the poor downtrodden child, the terrible things done to him, it appeals to their mothering instinct. Its as simple as that.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 8, 2013 7:42:46 AM PDT
Otis Thecat says:
Thanks, Dr. Freud.
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Initial post:  Jul 29, 2009
Latest post:  Nov 19, 2014

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Assassin's Apprentice (The Farseer Trilogy)
Assassin's Apprentice (The Farseer Trilogy) by Robin Hobb (Hardcover - 1995)
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