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Assassin's Apprentice

1 rating: 5.0
A book by Robin Hobb

The bastard sons of kings play a noble role in fantasy: not only were King Arthur and Modred by-blows, but it is often suggested that Merlin himself came to power from the "wrong side of the bed." While Hobb's offering has a few too many illegitimate … see full wiki

Tags: Books
Author: Robin Hobb
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy
Publisher: Spectra
1 review about Assassin's Apprentice

Beautiful, Tragic, and Epic

  • Sep 24, 2008
Ms. Hobb, how can it be that I, a self-proclaimed fantasy nut, have only recently discovered your talent? To answer my own question, I have to retrace some recent exploits of mine in terms of research and curiosity and thus provide this warning to readers of the review simply wondering whether or not they should purchase this book (or series as the case may be). To you I say, feel free to skip ahead. No offense will be taken if you do not wish to waste time with my rhetoric. To everyone else, here goes:

Robin Hobb's name appears on the tongue of lowly bookstore staff and fantasy "must read" lists nearly as often as such genre staples as Robert Jordan, George RR Martin, and, in some circles, Tolkien himself. I was aware of this fact for some time and came close to verifying such praise on many occasions but the glaring fact that this trilogy (and the subsequent Tawny Man trilogy) are told in the nearly unheard of (in fantasy anyway) first person perspective always seemed to sway my curiosity in favor of more "traditional" offerings that share shelf space (both physical and virtual) with Hobb's works.

Recently however, I finally decided to quit putting off venturing into another well-respected series (George RR Martin's Song of Ice and Fire saga) and noticed that Robin's praise littered the work (and vise versa when Martin spoke of authors he enjoyed). Dismissing it as the politics of sharing a publisher (Bantam Spectra), I once again drifted away from the allure of The Farseer trilogy (although I did enjoy Martin's saga quite a bit).

The final straw came when in a fit of obsessive research here on Amazon for new paperbacks to fill my shelves, I was continually recommended Robin Hobb's latest trilogy: The Soldier's Son. I began digging around to read the general consensus and discovered rather quickly that the opinion of this, her latest series, was pretty well split down the middle. Nothing new there, but what was interesting was that I noticed a trend in the negative reviews- Even those who gave the new books one or two star ratings followed with quotes to the effect of: "I still love Rob Hobb even if this series isn't my cup of tea" or "I'll continue to read all of Robin Hobb's books even though I didn't like this" or even "I couldn't get through this series but I will be ordering her entire backlist." This stopped me in my tracks because if, for nothing else, the internet is a fickle lot of faceless smack-talkers. Such author devotion and loyalty is beyond rare here in cyber space (I mean even the revered Robert Jordan took quite a textual lashing from his fans when the tenth book of Wheel of Time came out) and yet here were reviewers greatly pained to say something negative about Hobb.

Long story short, I had to find out for myself and purchased the three Farseer entries (Assassin's Apprentice, Royal Assassin, and Assassin's Quest) and the Tawny Man trilogy as well (Fool's Errand, Golden Fool, and Fool's Fate). Since this space is reserved for the first book of the first trilogy, I will focus on that alone. Having just finished Assassin's Apprentice moments ago, I'm left awed and regretful for taking so long to give Robin Hobb a chance.

The narrative is, as stated above, told entirely in first person through the lead character, FitzChivalry Farseer (or Fitz for short) and quite frankly, works so much better than I ever would have guessed. Especially cool is that the story is told in a continual recollection from a character who is in the process of recording a history of his land with ink on parchment. This results in a dual story of sorts where the land's histories, cultures, and ideals are suffused with Fitz's direct interaction with it all. "Well done" barely scratches the surface of Hobb's ability to weave her prose through this perspective. So smooth is her pacing and fluid her dialog that suddenly third-person books that I've reserved with the utmost regard up until now feel cobby and wordy.

Those looking for the epic scale of Lord of the Rings may be a bit disappointed in the simple fact that Hobb doesn't bring a whole lot of races or exotic locales into the plot. Rather, we learn of the world through the trials and tribulations of the characters themselves. This is a story of the human condition and of emotion first and foremost (with magic, mythical creatures, and sword play as the backdrop). The beauty of such writing is that it is, in essence timeless, and could work if told from just about any period in history (perhaps even in the future as well). The fact that Hobb decided to paint her art around a fantastical setting is merely a bonus for those of us who enjoy the genre.

Now for the bad news, and yes there is a bit to report: Those who read fantasy literature to escape the oft depressing and overwhelmingly unfairness of the world in which we live should probably avoid this series in favor of something more upbeat, fantastical, or unrealistic. I say this because Hobb writes with the same sort of tragedy that makes books like A Separate Peace, Of Mice and Men, and The Great Gastby timeless literary classics. She isn't afraid to have characters die, some of whom even the most callused reader will find themselves growing subconsciously attached to, and like Martin's works, death is a finality. There's no spell to bring someone back to life nor are there reappearances later on in which we learn we were mistaken about a death. There are moments along the way when hopelessness reigns supreme and (this is coming from a reader who boasts a strong ability to keep stories separate from the real world) the burden of the tasks and the emotional pain at hand drags the reader down right along with Fitz. However, keep in mind that to many, the problem I'm describing is simply referred to as good writing. A funny side note in keeping with this theme is the most common complaint from critics is that Hobb is too good!

In conclusion, I must confess that my stubbornness to accept something different (first person fantasy) has made me arrive twelve years late to something truly marvelous and classical in every sense of the word. Robin Hobb earns every bit of the praise that has been heaped upon her throughout the years and perhaps a little bit from those naysayers who accuse her of being "too good" as well.

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