To read is to travel: to come as a stranger to a foreign land, with strange new names, customs, histories, and even laws of nature. Sometimes, our travels take us to very exotic lands, where the color and novelty of everything is what draws us in and entices us to stay a while.
Other times, we travel somewhere far away, yet it feels just like coming home. We slip into a character that fits us as comfortably as a favorite t-shirt and makes us feel like we’ve woken up to a world that we knew, and only briefly forgot. Here, the adventures are all the more poignant for feeling so grounded.
That is the magic of Robin Hobb’s The Assassin’s Apprentice. In this novel, we have the privilege of growing up with Fitz, the bastard of the King-in-Waiting. We meet him as a child, abandoned by his mother to become the ward of the sitting King.
The boy’s birth shakes the political status quo and disgraces his father. But of all this, Fitz is mostly unaware. His story is that of a boy trying to just be a boy, while unable to escape the political demands of his birth.
Fitz is honest, earnest, and warm as the first-person narrator. He is every bit a young boy, trying to understand the world and his place in it. As he grows older, he is drawn more and more into the intrigue of his royal family — and commissioned to serve his king in the shadows by training under the king’s assassin.
The Assassin’s Apprentice is equal parts heartfelt coming of age story and clever political fiction. The story progresses slowly at first, but the threads it ultimately weaves together are well worth the effort.
Everything from the cadence of the writing to the vivd language and sensory-heavy descriptions creates a welcoming authenticity to Fitz’s world.
Reading this was like sitting by a crackling hearth in a great hall long ago, passing the winter listening to an old man recount his youth. The journey is compelling and the climax thrilling, yet it still manages to leave the reader feeling connected with the world and its people.
I highly recommend this book to any lover of good fantasy, but especially to fans of Patrick Rothfuss. This was the one novel that could break me out of my book doldrums post-The Wise Man’s Fear. Robin Hobb’s trilogy is a welcome read with many similarities to Rothfuss, that will hopefully give us all some good reading as we wait for book 3.
Writers, Read This Book For…
The Writing. Hobb is a master of vivd, active language and descriptions. Sometimes, I’d make a game of trying to spot the passive voice, but would go pages and pages without finding anything, then give up.
If humans are what they eat, writers are what they read. I know reading Hobb has already had a positive effect on my own command of the language.
The Characters. Particularly the handling of the POV character. First-person can be very difficult to do well, but Hobb nails it. More importantly, the character of Fitz develops organically. He is a real person, who makes his own decisions, reaps the consequences, and reacts with the consistent nuance of a real boy.
The Plot. While slow-moving at times, the plot of Assassin’s Apprentice provides a great counterpoint to Fitz’s character. World events swirl around Fitz and affect him in ways he can’t control. Fitz’s impact on the grand scheme of things is, for the most part, small and unnoticed by most in his world.
Today’s writers can learn a lot from a good story that focuses on the small, simple things that ultimately affect the larger turnings of the world. Small things, like an assassin’s herbs in the cup…