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Assassin's Apprentice (The Farseer Trilogy, Book 1) Mass Market Paperback – March 1, 1996
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“Fantasy as it ought to be written . . . Robin Hobb’s books are diamonds in a sea of zircons.”—George R. R. Martin
“A gleaming debut in the crowded field of epic fantasies . . . a delightful take on the powers and politics behind the throne.”—Publishers Weekly
“This is the kind of book you fall into, and start reading slower as you get to the end, because you don’t want it to be over.”—Steven Brust
From the Inside Flap
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Who am I kidding, of course I would have.
An exemplary book, filled with memorable, three dimensional characters with an incredible story set in a well imagined world, similar to our own in many ways and yet so different. The main character is very much stuck in his own head, but that's not a bad thing for the reader. It's a pleasure reading his thoughts and feelings about being trapped in a place he'll never truly belong, wielding two powers he doesn't understand. One power others understand and refuse to teach to the public, one power no one understands and people are burned to death for using it.
Really, really incredible book and not at all what you might expect from the title or the cover. You owe it to yourself to read this book.
I’m on the fence about whether to categorize this book as adult or young adult. The protagonist, Fitz, is a 6-year-old when we first meet him. By story’s end, he is in his mid teens. So, by the standard of “how old is the main character?” it would be young adult, but its vocabulary targets an older audience, so in that sense it reads like an adult book.
When we first meet Fitz, he has very little memory of who he is. In fact, he doesn’t even have a name that he can recall. Nothing beyond “Boy.” An old man presumed to be his grandfather is surrendering him to the care of the royal family. Fitz, you see, is the bastard of the crown prince.
Fitz falls in the care of the stable master, Burrich, after the crown prince abdicates his claim to the throne and abandons them both. We soon discover Fitz has a mental ability to bond with animals—an ability called Wit—which Burrich despises and is afraid of.
As we follow Fitz’s life, he leaves Burrich’s care and relocates to the palace at the behest of his grandfather, the King. The King has decided the best way to deal with Fitz is to prevent him from becoming a threat to the throne by using him as a royal assassin.
Divulging more of the plot would be bordering on spoiler territory, so I won’t. Suffice it to say, that this is a somewhat lengthy (464 pages in this version) introduction to a fantasy world.
For people who like action-packed fantasy, this isn’t going to fit the bill. Hobb takes her time developing young Fitz—his sense of isolation and abandonment, his search for belonging, his desire to prove himself worthy of being more than an illegitimate child—and I can see where this slow pace might turn off some readers. It’s a very character-driven story, and one that will most appeal to readers who have shared Fitz’s feelings of not quite fitting in anywhere.
For me, it was very relatable, and I found Fitz’s coming of age to be compelling. Hobb proved her writing chops to me when—knowing this was the first in a series and that Fitz was most likely to continue as protagonist—I still felt a sense of dread and worry that he wouldn’t survive a crucial point of the book.
I was thinking this was going to be a solid 4-star read all the way until the end of the final chapter, which left me teary-eyed, and caused me to elevate the writing to 5 stars, and Robin Hobb to the ranks of my favorite authors.
5 out of 5 stars.
Top international reviews
But all too soon Fitz learns that there are many who dislike him, for having been the cause of Chivalry’s abdication, and for the potential danger he might pose to the line of succession: among them are his young uncle Regal and the Skillmaster Galen, who is later assigned to Fitz as one of his teachers. And then there are those whose motives Fitz can never quite understand; and of these, the most prominent is his grandfather King Shrewd. Shrewd knows, as few others do, the value of a royal bastard and his acceptance of Fitz forms part of a bargain with the boy: that, as the royal house shelters and protects Fitz, so he will protect and further the interests of the royal house.
Hobb’s fantasy world is the kind that I love best: it is earthy, beautifully-described and not so very different from our own medieval world. Fitz isn’t confronted by wizards and sorcery, but by the petty intrigues and factions of the court: a labyrinth of politics which he must negotiate in order to keep his country safe. Although there are legends of the Elderlings left over from an earlier time, there is little magic in this age. There are a few strange powers, but these sit so comfortably within Hobb’s world that they seem natural, almost matter-of-fact.
It wouldn’t be fair to say that Assassin’s Apprentice is unremittingly bleak, but this is definitely a novel that has grit underneath its fingernails. Reading it now (this was a reread), I’m struck by how similar in spirit it is to Game of Thrones – not only in its brutality but in the constant suggestion that, really, no one is safe.
In the past year I’ve met some very compelling fictional characters, who have dazzled me with their competence and brilliance. But returning to Fitz feels like coming back to a friend: he engaged me emotionally from the first time I read about him, when I was twelve, and all that’s changed is that I now feel more protective towards him. He’s so real, so shy and insecure that I often feel the urge to run into the pages and give him a hug (or berate him). Unlike so many fantasy protagonists, Fitz isn’t a hero: he thinks of himself as the instrument of other people’s wills. That requires him to live a half-life, moving in and out of the shadows, ready with poison when his king desires it. And yet he isn’t a cold-blooded murderer: he’s just a bruised, lonely, determined boy who dares to hope that, one day, he might find someone to love him. Fitz is never the sharpest tool in the box when it comes to being emotionally articulate, and if he only had a bit more common sense – in short, if he were more like a fictional character and less like a real person – he’d see that there are possibilities within reach. But he’s still only a boy – and perhaps such realisations are better suited to the man he will become.
Returning to this book hasn’t just brought back a flood of childhood memories. It has reassured me that this series really is one of the best out there. You don’t have to identify as a fantasy reader in order to enjoy this: it conjures up a world of epic proportions with a surprisingly intimate focus, all described with piercing clarity. The plot never slackens, even in its quieter moments, and Hobb is a master at the throwaway scene which nevertheless reveals a lot. In short, it’s the kind of story that grabs you by the throat and simply never lets up. If you’ve never read Hobb, you should definitely start here.
For the full review, please see my blog.
The book proved to be engaging enough, and very well written. Usually books have overly detailed descriptions of everything or they rely on relating the facts, though Hobb achieved a good balance. More than that, the vocabulary on the book turned out resourceful and I found myself peeking into a dictionary every now and then, something that had not happened in a while. Each chapter provided a sense of wholeness, and overall robustness, which I'm not sure if I should attribute that to the book being old thusly devoid of modern tendencies, or if it just her style.
Since the book focused on one character, I felt this waned the potential tension of any and all dangerous situations. You know for a fact that however maimed or traumatized, the protagonist will survive. It's an unfortunate side effect of this writing style and a weakness, in my opinion. The book also falls too short at 390 pages, which could've easily been prolonged if the last arc was not so rushed and convoluted.
Nevertheless, this is a good book, and worthy read for anyone looking for a simple fantasy book.
The stakes for Fitz are impressively high, but where I was reading fantasy back in the 90s, I had expectations of marbled towers, sorcerers, mighty-thewed heroes, and mounds of treasure. Coming into Hobb's world off the back of, say, Dragonlance and Feist, was a change of tone that jarred way back in the day. But Buckkeep and the Duchies are rich in themselves, and you'd be a fool not to enjoy the sheer depth of the world. Likewise the characters Fitz must live with: Verity, Molly, The Fool - all formed by Fitz's perception of them, even as we shout that he's missing the most important things of all...
Take your time with this, and it'll reward you.
It took a few chapters to get into the plot but after that it was pure reading pleasure, with characters that build, and not your usual 'poor boy has special powers' kind of deal. We see Fitz develop and the Fool become..well quite what, is up for interpretation.
I ended up ordering all three trilogies because i could not bear to wait a moment until my next fix. Just buy, read and enjoy!
Assassin's Apprentice did this for me.
FitzChivalry Farseer is the illegitimate son of the heir to the throne of the Six Duchies. He possesses the Skill, a magic which allows the wielder to read and influence others' thoughts - sometimes openly and brutally, other times delicately, so subtle the person being influenced is not even aware of it happening.
But Fitz also has the Wit - known and reviled as beast-magic - that allows him to communicate thoughts and emotions with certain animals. Possession of the Wit means a death-sentence at the hands of an angry mob.
Assassin's Apprentice, the first book in a trilogy, is very much a swords-and-sorcery feast. It's more accessible and credible than A Song of Ice and Fire (a.k.a. Game of Thrones), and the story exclusively follows Fitz from his point of view. He's a wonderful anti-hero, achingly believable and deeply, charmingly flawed. As he cannot be legally acknowledged as royalty, he is taken on as an assassin, working in the shadows to serve the Six Duchies and the King, taught how to kill by his enigmatic mentor, Chade. At the same time he must pose as nothing more than a stable hand under the care of Burrich the Stablemaster.
It's this duality - the Skill, a royal magic, coupled with Fitz's service to the throne, clashing with his satisfaction with and yearning for an ordinary life, that makes Fitz such a joy to read. He's not a hero, but he enables others to be heroes. He wants a simple, quiet life, free of intrigue, and yet keeps throwing himself into court politics because he cannot keep away.
As if that weren't enough, the plot is also incredible, mixing court intrigue with love and loss, involves spiteful princes, epic quests, and dragons, which everybody can acknowledge are AWESOME. It's also got one of the best supporting characters in literary history: the Fool. I won't say any more about him, because Hobb has written 9 books (3 standalone trilogies) set in this world, and some characters weave their way through the whole tapestry Hobb has woven.
This is fantasy writing at its best, and I thoroughly recommend all 9 volumes.
Apart from being utterly immersed I’ve actually learned a lot from this book in terms of excellent editing, especially where scenes don’t require as much dialogue or exposition but are still essential to drive the story forward. Whilst nothing was a real surprise in the story, it didn’t really matter – I was marvelling more at how the author spun the tales of earthy Buckkeep, the town and the surrounding lands, delving in and out of Fitz’s initially fragile but strengthening psyche while he was bandied about within the royal family.
I know this series has loads more for me to explore, and I’ll certainly be moving on to the next in the future, being a tad behind. It delivers everything it meant to, and is a masterclass in pace and editing. Very inspired!
BUT what I really dislike is paying paperback prices for a download of which only 75% is the actual book. The remaining 25% is chapters of the next two book(s). So when I pay £4 for the next book I would only be reading about 60% if it for the actual book if it follows the same set up. A rip off and why I try not to spend too much on digital downloads.
You will either love it or hate it, but at least give it a try.
And this is the first in a series. It's well written, in the form of an old man's memoir of his childhood training, and although I have only read a few chapters of it so far, I can see me buying the others. (I think #1 might have been a freebie or a cheapie to get me hooked)
Where do assassins come from? In this universe they are the illegitimate children of royalty. And something that runs in the family is psychic powers. There are many unanswered questions raised in Book 1:
What are the red raiders up to?
Is Fitz really psychic?
And of course the one that really matters - what happens next?
Excuse me now, I have to go and buy book 2