Saturday, July 18, 2009

Assassin's Apprentice

"Assassin's Apprentice" by Robin Hobb (1996).

I've found that the older I get the less that fantasy stories interest me. It may be that I'm simply growing out of it, or perhaps I've just read enough of these books where they all seem the same. The Assassin's Apprentice isn't the typical fantasy novel that I've read in the past. In fact it almost doesn't fit into fantasy at all. At least with the first book in the trilogy (of the Farseer trilogy, Robin wrote at least one more trilogy about the same characters in a later discussed series) there is little mention of anything that would move it into the fantasy genre. What keeps it in the fantasy genre is the "Skill" and the "Wit". The Skill is akin to a medieval Force (sorry George) that allows the user to interact with people from afar. I guess without cell phones this is the next best thing. The Wit is a similar talent, but with beasts, and one that is seriously frowned upon. Our hero, Fitz (also FitzChivalry) appears to have both skills. Did I mention that Fitz is the illegitimate son of the "King-in-waiting"? It doesn't matter, Chivalry soon dies and is effectively out of the picture before the action begins.

It annoyed me no end that every character in the book is named for some attribute that they outwardly show. King Shrewd is... well, shrewd. Chivalry was the man everyone looked up to. Etc, etc. The youngest son of the current king, Prince Regal was perhaps the most poorly named, or perhaps it was a sign of what the future holds for the character. For the record, "fitz" means son in Norman. Regardless of the names, I eventually put that past me and went on with the business of reading the book.

The story itself isn't a fantasy novel. If anything it's more like a day to day account of the life of the bastard son of anyone coming up in the 14th century. Instead of the Farseer line, this could have easily been the Tudors, or the Stuarts (that is if they existed a few hundred years earlier than they did). Fitz recounts his life through a first person narrative. It's obvious that he survives all that we read because its his hand that is documenting the story, obviously from a future state. This somewhat bothered me because it leads you to believe that Fitz lives to be an old man. Regardless, on quickly forgets this and moves forward with the book.

Fitz is trained to be an Assassin. King Shrewd feels that Fitz would be best useful as a member of the royal family (from the outside) and bids that he deal with situations from time to time. The kingdom is beset upon by Raiders from the north, who suddenly have an ability to remove humanity from their victims. Imagine "Night of the Living Dead" but wearing peasant clothes. This, although a major story point, really has little to do with the final outcome of the book. I assume that this will be a plotline throughout the series and possibly become more intriguing.

I don't want to tell you everything that happened. I honestly feel you should read it yourself. I always had a problem with the early works of Neal Stephenson, he never really knew how to end a story. Robin Hobb doesn't have that problem. About the time that I'm starting to get frustrated with the book, she suddenly within the space of a few chapters, completely wraps it up. I did feel like she rushed it a little bit, but at least there were no threads left hanging. If anything, I was left wondering why she needed a sequel. Let me just say that Robin understands intrigue, and how messy royal families can be. Ok, I'm impressed, let's read the second one.

I recommend this book with 3.5 stars. Read it and let me know what you think. My sister in law left me the second book and I'm going to read that next. She left me a note on Facebook saying that she picked up the final of the series and some of the second series as well. Lin if you are reading this, let me know what you thought of the first book.

NEXT UP: "The Royal Assassin" by Robin Hobb.