My rating: 4 stars
Fantasy novels aren’t merely a vessel to transport readers to a world full of magic. Assassin’s Apprentice, the first book in The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb, deals with very true-to-life topics. Not only is this a story about court intrigue and lust for power, but it also delves into human emotions in a believable way. Set in the Six Duchies, which are ruled by the Farseers, this is the first introduction to a meticulously imagined world that begs to be discovered and savoured.
When the narrator was six years old, he was left by his grandfather at the castle of the town where they lived in. He was the bastard son of Prince Chivalry, the Crown Prince, who, according to the old man, was aware that he had got his daughter pregnant. A guard took him to Prince Verity, who then ordered him to be fed and taken someplace where he could sleep until he decided what was to be done with him. For some weeks, he slept at the stables and was taken care of by Burrich, who at the time was his father’s man. He was later taken to Buckkeep without ever knowing Chivalry.
His existence complicated the line of succession. Prince Chivalry was married to Lady Patience, but they didn’t have a child together, as neither of her pregnancies had lasted the full term. He, thus, ended up abdicating the throne, and Verity assumed his place. At first, the political aspects of the book are just hinted at. The political machinations that took place among the royal family can be inferred from the conversations between the characters. They become more obvious as the story progresses.
The narrator spent a lot of time with Burrich when he was a child. He was the first to call him Fitz, as no one knew his name. At Buckkeep, Burrich became Master for hounds, hawks and horses, and Fitz stayed with him at the stables. He started to develop a close affinity with Nosy, one of the pups. They went everywhere together, and Fitz shared his senses in a way that he didn’t fully understand. When Burrich became aware of that connection, he explained to Fitz that he had the power of the beast blood – the Wit. At first, it allows humans to have an affinity with animals, but it then consumes them to the point they become beasts. So, Burrich undertook the task to stop the bond between Fitz and Noby.
Some years passed until Fitz encountered King Shrewd for the first time in the great hall. He thought that it was more than time for something to be made of Fitz. Royal Bastards could be of great use, because no one would deny seeing them and they could be sent to places deemed too dangerous for a prince of the blood. He wanted Fitz to start being trained and to have a room of his own at the keep. He wasn’t only to learn how to ride a horse and fight. The King also wanted him to be trained by Chade as an assassin, as long as he promised to always be loyal to him. And he was also to learn the traditional magic of the Farseer family – the Skill.
Fitz flourishes as a character throughout the book. He almost didn’t talk with anyone in the keep at first, but he became considerably more at ease with people thanks to his training. He also started to question his place at Buckkeep and wanted to see more of the world. He wasn’t free to do that, however. He had that in common with the people from the blood line. Sometimes he was sent to town on errands and shared some sweet moments with Molly, a girl he met when he first arrived at Buckkeep. His state of mind at each given moment is skilfully portrayed. Words become alive with the emotions they convey.
Assassin’s Apprentice features great moments of depiction of human emotions and relationships. Burrich, for example, was anxious about Fitz’s safety but attempted to pretend otherwise. It feels like he didn’t want to reveal to Fitz how much he cared for him, so instead he tried to pass the idea that he was worried that he might bring shame on him and Chivalry.
The extent in which the book delves into human behaviour goes beyond the main characters. The Six Duchies were facing a serious threat to the safety of the population. That is used to explore stimulating issues, including what makes us human, the bonds between people and how they can disappear when we are faced with traumatic and harrowing situations.
“Imagine water with no weight or wetness. That is how those folk were to me. Stripped of what made them not only human, but alive.”
Each chapter starts with a couple of introductory paragraphs about the world in which the story takes place. They present facts from the past and clarify some of the traditions of the Six Duchies, such as royal babies’ names being connected with virtues and abilities. They seem to be written from the perspective of a much older Fitz than the one doing the rest of the narration. He sounds much wiser.
Throughout most of the book, the writing style is one of the highlights. Since it is detailed regarding the settings and the movements of the characters, it’s easy to visualise the actions. At the beginning of various chapters, it seems like the plot is going nowhere. The prose is so absorbing, however, that it’s easy to become enthralled by whichever small events are being recounted. The characters also become more fleshed out with each chapter. It’s a shame that in the last one, in order to wrap up the story, some events are just briefly mentioned, which differs from how the narration was done until then.
Robin Hobb left me curious to know more about Fitz’s life and to discover how the political situation evolved in the Six Duchies. I’ll certainly read the following books in the trilogy.