Yet again I have book blogging to thank for helping me to discover an author who I think is going to become a favourite. Not being a big reader of fantasy, I would probably never have thought of reading Robin Hobb until I noticed how enthusiastic bloggers such as Leander and Alex were about her work. Assassin’s Apprentice, the first book of The Farseer Trilogy seemed the logical place to start, and what a great book it turned out to be!
Assassin’s Apprentice is set in the Kingdom of the Six Duchies, a fictional world that in some ways resembles Europe during the medieval period. Our narrator is Fitz, the illegitimate son of Prince Chivalry, the heir to the throne. Fitz is only six years old when he comes to court for the first time, having been handed over by his maternal grandfather. Chivalry himself considers the arrival of his bastard son such a disgrace that he retires from court and removes himself from the line of succession before he and Fitz even have a chance to meet. As the years go by, Fitz tries to settle into his new life at Buckkeep, the home of the royal family (the Farseers), but he finds that while there are some people who show concern for his welfare – his uncle, Prince Verity, for example, and Chivalry’s loyal stableman, Burrich, who cares for him during his early years – there are others who have no intention of making him feel welcome, such as Prince Regal, the younger half-brother of Chivalry and Verity (in Fitz’s world, the nobility have names that reflect their personal qualities).
While Fitz struggles to find a place for himself at Buckkeep, his grandfather, King Shrewd, decides to gain the boy’s loyalty and assure himself that Fitz will be working for the royal house rather than against it. And so Fitz begins to receive private lessons from the mysterious assassin, Chade, who will train him in the art of killing for the king. The adventures Fitz has over the years that follow are best left for readers to discover for themselves, so I won’t say any more about the plot here, except to say that I thought it was wonderful!
The world Robin Hobb describes in Assassin’s Apprentice is not greatly different from our own – or as our own world used to be a few hundred years ago. That is, there are no elves, wizards, goblins or other magical beings of the sort you find in other fantasy novels. However, there are a small number of magical abilities which some of our characters possess: the Wit – a special affinity between humans and animals; the Skill – the power to communicate telepathically with other people; and Forging – the act of removing a person’s emotions and humanity, named for the village of Forge where this first occurred. The first two are abilities which Fitz himself uses or attempts to use, without fully understanding either of them; the third is a method employed by the Red Ship Raiders who spend most of the novel attacking the coasts of the Six Duchies. All the other things we need to know about this world – history, geography, traditions – are described in brief passages at the beginning of each chapter so that we can learn gradually without having too much information thrown at us all at once.
I’ve discussed the plot and the setting, so what about the characters? Well, they are excellent as well. Fitz is one of the most endearing and engaging narrators I’ve come across for a long time. It would be difficult not to have sympathy for the lonely little boy he is at the beginning of the book, but I continued to love him as he grew into an awkward, insecure teenager. The other characters range from the ‘good’ (Burrich and Verity) to the ‘bad’ (Galen the Skillmaster and Prince Regal) to those, like King Shrewd, whose motives are more difficult to interpret. I was also intrigued by the Fool, who appears from time to time and gives Fitz advice in the form of cryptic riddles. I can see from the titles of some of Robin Hobb’s other books that the Fool must have a bigger part to play than was obvious from this first novel, so I’ll look forward to meeting him again.
Knowing that there are another two books in The Farseer Trilogy and having enjoyed this one so much, I will naturally be starting the second one as soon as possible!