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Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb
Book Name: Assassin's Apprentice
Author: Robin Hobb
Publisher(s): Voyager
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audio Book / eBook
Genre(s): Fantasy / Dark Fantasy
Release Date: March 1, 1996

Assassin’s Apprentice is a book that has been on my radar for a long time, but something has always stopped my from picking it up. Perhaps it was the fact that the covers looked a little dull and I therefore wrongly expected it to not suit my usual action-y type tastes and expectations.

What I’ve found here though is an important book within the genre and one that I dearly loved. I should start by saying that I LOVED The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and I loved The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks. Both were published about a decade or so after this novel and as I will discuss later, I think they influenced each, as well as many other fantasy novels greatly.

Assassin’s Apprentice is a story about a Prince’s bastard named Fitz. Bastards are very popular in fantasy these days and Fitz seems to have been one of the earliest examples of one. A bastard is basically a child born out of wedlock, typically by a male having a bit of fun whilst away from his duties. Fitz’s father happens to be the Prince of the Six Dutchies – a grouping of six regions that work together relatively harmoniously upon a large island. Surrounding the island are various smaller islands and beyond that there seems to be more regions that home pirates and raiders and such (I won’t spoil to much).

Fitz is dropped off by his grandfather one day at the palace gates. He tells a soldier that he can no longer afford to feed or clothe the child and the father, Prince Chivalry, should take responsibility and care for him from now on. A bastard is something to be ashamed of in this world and quickly Prince Chivalry who was in-line to get the throne from his father, King Shrewd, steps down with his shame and hands the right to the throne to his brother, Prince Verity, and should anything happen to him, his even younger brother, Prince Regal.

As a result of having removed Chivalry from his position, Fitz is not at all popular. He doesn’t actually meet Chivalry in person, but Verity ignores him and Regal abuses him when he gets chance. Fitz spends the most of his days sleeping in the stables with the animals and talking with the games-master. It quickly becomes apparent that Fitz is happy here because he has some kind of bond with the animals. Early on we don’t know exactly what this bond is, but it seems to be some kind of connection between mind and senses.

So, Fitz is living happily in the stables, but doesn’t really have a place. It seems that he is set to live an unfulfilling life and be remembered forever as the bastard that removed Prince Chivalry from his right to the throne. That is until King Shrewd comes to him with an ‘offer’ (he can’t actually refuse, so more a demand). Fitz is to become a tool to the King. He will do the King’s bidding because a bastard has a unique position. Although he is worthless to the royal family (therefore expendable), he is feared and respected as ‘royalty’ by everyone else.

I guess it wouldn’t be a spoiler telling you he becomes an… erm…assassin’s apprentice. This is basically where the story begins to pick up the pace. Fitz is to learn the art of weapons, stealth, murder, poison and much more besides. What the purpose is we do not know exactly, but we know that the King has big plans for Fitz.

That is about as much as I dare tell you for now without spoiling the novel. I think the reason that the book is such a fantastic read is the beautiful prose of Robin Hobb. This book is certainly worthy of study within the field of literature and is one of the finest examples of first person writing I have ever come across. Fitz’s musing, his spirit that comes through, his articulate nature makes for a fine read. You find yourself really engaging with him emotionally and sympathising for the life he is forced to live. It’s no surprise to me that this young man who doesn’t harness any great power or position (at this point) is often named by fantasy fans as one of their favourite characters.

Once Hobb has cleverly got you connected and caring about Fitz, she makes his life harder and harder. You have to decide with Fitz what it is he must do, what is going too far and you will also have to consider what it is you would do in these circumstances. This is the story of a young boy who was born worthless who eventually finds himself in the centre of a political series of events that could end with the loss of lives and kingdoms by his decisions. I think the ability of Hobb to have you care for Fitz and share his experience will really leave you emotionally touched and finding it impossible to forget.

So, I promised earlier that I would tell you a bit about the importance of this book in relation to other books that have proved popular in more modern times. The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks is essentially the same tale told in a different setting and a different way. A child who comes from a hard background fights his way to become an assassin. In The Name of the Wind, the voice of Kvothe is very, very close to that of Fitz’s and their positions are not really that dissimilar. Kvothe also starts life as a beggar essentially and makes his way up to pretty much noble status (within the university). You then have the fool connection. The fool is a character that seems to appear everywhere in fantasy after the release of Robin Hobb’s book in 1995. Before this it was more likely to appear in children’s literature like Alice in Wonderland for example (The Cheshire Cat). The wise fool is most noticeable in A Clash of Kings (Patchface) and The Way of Kings (Wit).

The book is not only important to the genre, but a fantastic read even today. You may find that the story seems a bit familiar at times, but you should try to read it in context of its time. In 1995, this book was doing things that people hadn’t really tried to do before. I also think that it is important to remember that Hobb has written a lot, lot more in the fantasy genre than this piece alone and promises to write even more still. Certainly, I feel grateful to the people who rallied behind this book and propelled it to the top of our fantasy book club. Robin Hobb has just broken into my Top 5 Authors. I’ve just spent some pennies buying the next five books of hers and therefore you can look forward to more reviews of her work soon.

If you have read the book and would like to discuss it, you can check out the thread for our July 2011 book club here.



  1. Glad you liked the book as much as I did. I’m hoping to see some more of her books appear in the book club soon (tweak the votes if need be :-)). We seem to have had similar experiences with this one. I also compared it to some modern books that I think it influenced. I would never have imagined myself saying that a relatively modest 400 page book would serve as inspiration to The Name of the Wind, but I think it did. I think I also threw in a few comparisons to Game of Thrones, Lies of Locke Lamora and even Harry Potter, which may be going a bit too far, but I wanted to get across how important I think this book is. And how underrated. I’m a little stingy with my top marks, so I only gave it an 8/10 (I reserve 10/10 for things like LotR and SoIF), but I really cannot begin to say how pleasantly surprised I was by this book.

    I didn’t think the book was perfect, so I did include a bit of criticism in my review. I’d be interested to get your thoughts on this: http://definitivereviews.blogspot.com/2011/07/assassins-apprentice-farseer-book-1.html

    • Avatar Overlord says:

      I gave Lord of the rings 5, 4, 3 I think (the books got worse as they went through) – but I’m reading them in 2011 and comparing them to modern books. I have given ASoI&F 4.5/5 throughout I believe 🙂 I’d find it hard not to give Hobb a 5/5 really, nothing wrong with this book at all =)

  2. Avatar Sunny says:

    I discovered this series a few years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it – enough to try out some of her other works which I’ve also enjoyed. Glad you liked it!

  3. Avatar Khaldun says:

    While I enjoyed Assassin’s Apprentice, I absolutely do not think this deserves to be ranked ahead of even the worst of the Song of Ice and Fire books. The plot was fairly standard, as were the characters. The world-building, pacing, and characterization were solid, but there wasn’t anything especially new and it didn’t keep me up at night wanting to read more. The fact that I didn’t buy later volumes in the series is notable. The Name of the Wind does similar things but much, much, much better in my opinion. I’m not sure what I would rate this book, but not nearly a perfect score (but if you’ve read my reviews you’ll note that I am extremely picky and stingy with my scores).
    Would like to hear other opinions on the subject.

  4. Avatar Nick Snow says:

    I read the Farseer trilogy about 2 years ago and although I enjoyed it I would never say that it was perfect. The first of the trilogy, Assassin’s Apprentice, is the best unfortunately and it goes down from there. The second is still enjoyable but the third really felt overlong and the ending felt rather lacklustre.

    This isn’t to say that I’m not glad I read them because I am, it simply means that these books are by no means anywhere near the quality of the top ranking series/books in the genre e.g. Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ (Don’t forget that A Game of Thrones was first published just a year later in 1996.)

    Despite all this I still have Hobb on my radar and do intend to read more of her books at some point – most likely the liveship trilogy as most believe this to be her best work. What I would say however, is that in the two years since I finished the Farseer trilogy I have read a lot of sci-fi/fantasy books but not once been tempted to read anything by Hobb. Unfortunately the disappointing way the quality reduced with each book has put me off when there are plenty other good books out there.

    However much you enjoyed this book Overlord, I’m afraid you may have a similar experience as when you reveiwed Lord of the rings as I’d give the Farseer books 4, 3.5, 3.

  5. I only read this series about 3 years ago, pushed into it by a friend who’s a big fan of Hobb. I can understand why some people are not engaged by Fitz’s character and why his various frustrations become … frustrating, however I was hooked. You’re right (IMOHO) in saying Hobb is the mistress of 1st person. She works subtle wonders with it, and the friendship between Fitz and the Fool is a standout for me in fantasy writing. It’s not the violent hero-driven fantasy that I’m more used to reading, but it’s good stuff. I’d recommend everyone to give it a try and I would rate it 5* myself.

  6. Avatar Krissy says:

    Awesome review and agree about the close connections with other fantasy novels – Hobb is an inspiration.

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