For some reason, it’s important which book you start the year with. If you start the year with a lousy book, you sort of have to spend the rest of the year trying to make up for it, whereas if you start with a good or even great book, it’s like the year can’t go wrong. So a huge amount of pressure rests on that first book.
My first book this year was the first book in Robin Hobb’s The Farseer Trilogy. Assassin’s Apprentice is a book I’ve been waiting to read for a while after my good friend Henrik told me about it. However, he also told me that I would cry my eyes out while reading it – and that sort of book demands a certain kind of mood. And even though I’m not quite sure how to describe that mood, apparently that was the mood I was in when I started reading this book – and it turned out to be perfect.
Assassin’s Apprentice is the story of the bastard Fitz. Fitz is born to the King-in-Waiting Chivalry and when his grandfather delivers the six-years old kid to the castle, he sets more events in motion than anyone could foresee. Fitz is handed over to the stable master Burrich who is told to take care of him. Burrich is the best at his job – at taking care of dogs, horses and falcons but not exactly skilled at taking care of boys. Still he does the absolutely best he can – by putting the boy in with one of his dogs and her puppies. Fitz survives but bonds with one of the puppies. Normally no one would mind that a boy bonds with a puppy but Fitz has a certain ability, the Wit, which makes him able to sense what animals see, smell, experience. And Burrich will not allow this bonding because he’s afraid that Fitz will turn into a dog himself as the old legends say will happen. So he takes the puppy away and Fitz is heartbroken.
However, Fitz’s uncle, the King-in-Waiting Verity interferes and orders that the boy is taken to the keep and trained properly as befits a boy of the royal blood – even if the boy is a bastard. Still, Fitz has to grow up in a hostile environment. He’s the bastard and his father gives up his position, apparently because of the shame of fathering a bastard and what this means to his barren queen. So just by being born, Fitz has upset the kingdom.
But king Shrewd recognizes the importance of a bastard and he lets the boy know that whenever the boy needs him, he can come see him. But despite all this, Fitz has to learn everything the hard way and not everyone wish to see him succeed. Especially his other uncle, Prince Regal, is keen to get rid of him.
But Fitz grows up and makes some friends – among them Verity and also his late father’s widow the Lady Patience who even gifts him a small terrier, the second animal Fitz bonds with. Smithy becomes Fitz’s strength in a harsh life that includes training as a assassin with the mysterious Chade. But even more important is Molly, the candle maker’s daughter he meets in the small town next to the King’s keep. The children spend many happy hours playing and growing up together – even though Fitz always hides from her that he’s the royal Bastard.
And when the kingdom of Six Duchies is attacked repeatedly by raiders who not only kill and destroy but also does something to the people they capture that leaves them as bare shells of themselves; shells that are still capable of killing whoever they come in contact with, Fitz has to prove his worth. These Forged ones, as they are called, and their destruction becomes one of Fitz’s first duties for his king.
This was fantasy when it’s best. It was just so very clever throughout. I could see some of Hobb’s tricks at times and whenever I noticed one, it was to marvel at how clever she was at creating a world with a believable magic that doesn’t overpower the world or the story. In this world, there’s two types of magic – the Wit which is bonding with animals and the Skill which is a sort of telepathy. Only the Skill is socially acceptable and actually a part of the Royal line whereas the Wit is frowned upon and therefore Fitz has to hide his bonds with animals and his ability to sense their thoughts and feelings.
I really liked how the people in the Royal family are named after the traits, they are hoped to possess. So we have King Shrewd, his three sons Chivalry, Verity and Regal, we have a lady Patience and much more. I also really really liked the way she describes the animals and Fitz’s connection to them. Here’s Fitz and Smithy on their way back home after meeting Molly: ‘All the way up to the keep Smithy keep prattling to himself about all the perfumes he’d smelt on her and how she had scratched him ust where he could never reach in front of his ears and of the sweet biscuit she’d fed him in the tea shop.’ (p. 282-283) And I liked that the characters are not just black or white but have several shades of grey. The bad guys are bad yes, but there are reasons that explains at least part of why they are the way they are. One of my favorite characters was Burrich. This big strong man who would do anything and everything for his master, king-in-waiting Chivalry and who is very hurt by being left behind at the keep when Chivalry abdicates. And even though he is a stern teacher, he takes care of Fitz as he knows best – and he can be a real mamma bear when someone hurts Fitz.
All in all I just flew through this one, enjoying everything about it. It was engaging, interesting and exciting. This is what fantasy can be when it’s strong. I am in love with this world, Hobb has created and I’m so glad that not only is this the first in a trilogy but there are several more trilogies taking place in this world – and some even claim that this is the weakest trilogy. Whether that is so or not, I’m looking so much forward to spending more time in this world.
First line: A history of the Six Duchies is of necessity a history of its ruling family, the Farseers.
- Title: Assassin’s Apprentice (The Farseer Trilogy #1)
- Author: Robin Hobb
- Publisher: Harper Voyager
- Year: 2007 (original 1995)
- Pages: 460 pages
- Source: Own collection
- Stars: 5 stars out of 5