Robin Hobb’s bestseller Assassin’s Apprentice is an amazing book. Well-developed, well-paced, and well-written, the author succeeds in drawing her readers into her fantasy world. I empathized immediately with the character of young Fitz. I think anyone would. To be so young and be hauled up by one grandfather and thrown upon the other grandfather that you didn’t know is just merciless. And that’s just the opening pages. After that, things get steadily worse for our hero. Which is exactly the kind of story I want to read.
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Robin Hobb used to write under her real name, Megan Lindholm, but changed to the new pseudonym to try something different: a deeper, more real fantasy world. The gambit paid off big-time because the initial trilogy has spawned several others and won her millions of readers around the world.
Many of the earmarks of conventional fantasy are here. Fitz is a highborn who doesn’t exist either in the court or in the gutter because no one wants him. The only keeper he knows for years is Burrich, his royal father’s houndsman. Burrich isn’t a soft man, and he isn’t too taken with Fitz because Chivalry’s bastard has cost his master the throne and Burrich his standing among the other men-at-arms.
I loved the political intrigue that surrounds Fitz’s heritage and the pathos of having a father you don’t even know. I enjoyed the range of characters that allied themselves with Fitz and against him. I especially enjoyed the younger years he shared with the pup Nosey, and the heartbreak he felt at being separated from him was hard. These pages reminded me of the old Andre Norton novels I grew up with.
Since this is the first book of a trilogy, there are still plenty of plot threads left dangling at the end. Overall I was happy with being left hanging. I think I see where Hobb is going to take the story, but I look forward to getting the next books and finding out if I’m right.
One thing that threw me a little bit is how narrative heavy the novel is. There’s just not as much dialogue between the characters as I expected. On the other hand, the increased narrative allows Hobb to move her story all over the place and jump to different interesting plot points more efficiently. I believe overall it was a good tradeoff, but some readers may be more sensitive to this than I am.
Also, this is a great book for an aggressive young reader that may be getting too old for Harry Potter. The material is suitable for kids, though there is some violence and the way Fitz is treated by some of the adults may be edgy. Fitz’s life is hard and it shows.