The Assassin’s Apprentice (Farseer Trilogy #1) by Robin Hobb is the first fantasy book of the Farseer Trilogy.
This fantasy novel popped up enough times on my recommended reading list to drag me to the bookstore and finally give the shot it deserves. Let’s get into the Assassin’s Apprentice review!
If you’re not familiar with how I conduct my book reviews, I typically just deliver the general gist of the book to give you an idea of whether or not this novel might be to your liking. I refrain from analyzing specific plot details that would spoil the reading experience for you.
This Assassin’s Apprentice review is meant to be a preview trailer, not a plot summary. I only include spoilers for previous novels if the novel is a sequential installment in a series.
In short, this Assassin’s Apprentice review DOES NOT contain any major spoilers for the plot of Assassin’s Apprentice. Enjoy!
What reading genre is the Assassin’s Apprentice?
Assassin’s Apprentice is considered to be a part of the fantasy fiction reading genre.
What is the setting of Assassin’s Apprentice?
The scene is set in a medieval archetypical context. Nobility reigns with an iron fist and the mystical arts of alchemy are slowly being uncovered.
What is the gist of the plot?
The story centers on a young, illegitimate child of royal bloodlines named Fitz. Fitz has a knack for trouble in his fledgling years, partially due to his own impish antics. The chief source of his troubles, however, is the unfortunate circumstances he was born into.
Through birthright, Fitz can contest for his rightful claim to the throne. This provokes those next in succession to regard him as a threat to their own sovereignty. For this reason, noblemen do everything in their power to squash his claim before it manifests itself into reality.
Fitz must fight an uphill battle to prove himself worthy of his royal bloodlines. He may even have to ascertain a particular set of skills that go above and beyond anything that he has encountered before.
From what perspective is this story told?
The tale is told from the first person perspective of Fitz. The story is told from his time as a child to his years as a teenager. As a result, the manner in which Fitz narrates the story changes as he grows into maturity.
How is the characterization of the primary protagonist Fitz?
I felt that Hobb did a sensational job of drawing me into the exact thought process of Fitz as he undergoes large-scale incidents that inevitably alter the course of his life.
The grave pitfall of Fitz is of his own self doing. He loses himself in his own head time and again because of his agonizing loneliness. Fitz blames himself for events that go beyond the realm of his control.
It was during these particular instances that I found the reading to be the most captivating. The manner in which the descriptions were formulated divulged the emotions of Fitz succinctly. So much so that you are able to fully understand his misery by the time the passage is over.
How is the characterization of the supporting cast?
The characterization of the supporting cast is not nearly as well done as the characterization of Fitz. Nonetheless, there were certainly a few bright spots that piqued my interest over the course of the novel.
My favorite member of the supporting cast is Burrich.
Burrich is a loyal stable master entrusted with the duty of taking care of Fitz in his early years. He treats his animals as if they were his own children. Burrich is a strict disciplinarian, but he is exactly what Fitz needs in his life.
The dynamic between these two characters is engaging and some of their exchanges put a real smile on my face.
As for the other characters, their descriptions were a bit more forgettable. Even the antagonist of the novel was a bit dreary. It definitely would not have hurt to grant the minor characters a bit of a more prominent role in the storyline.
I believe the supporting cast was a bit lackluster especially compared to the amount of characterization that was devoted to Fitz.
How is the overall pacing of Assassin’s Apprentice?
The story is a bit slow-paced. This is chiefly due to the colossal depth of character that Hobb grants in her depictions of the protagonist.
Although this did wonders in rationalizing the intentions behind the protagonist, I felt like this excess detail detracted from the plot. In my opinion, my comprehension of the plot structure would have benefited greatly had the pacing of the novel been stressed.
How is the overall plot structure of Assassin’s Apprentice?
The unfolding of the plot itself was overall satisfactory, but I must admit it did have its flaws.
At certain sections, I did not have a firm grasp on what direction the story was taking. The novel is titled Assassin’s Apprentice, so I made the educated assumption that the heart of the novel would be based around the episodes that cultivated the assassination repertoire of Fitz.
It was only when I concluded the novel that I discovered there were not many scenes that actually involved much murder at all.
The meat of the plot is concentrated to a greater extent on the emotional perils of the protagonist. There is far less emphasis placed on his upbringing as an assassin.
That being said, I did still thoroughly enjoy the story. I was just misled into believing the story would be packed with more physical plot twists rather than emotional ones.
Does Assassin’s Apprentice get better or worse with every chapter?
Assassin’s Apprentice definitely gets better with each chapter as the story progresses.
Early on, the story is a bit more difficult to get through just because the author has to explain the circumstances behind the birth of Fitz. The complicated setup of the novel requires copious amounts of detail to prevent later confusion.
After the introduction is made and the scene is set, the story definitely picks up. Rather than laboriously investigating the family history of Fitz, the reader starts to see glimpses and flashes of the internal conflicts of the protagonist. This is vastly more interesting in my opinion.
Characters also start to take shape in the latter sections of the novel. In the beginning, the characters are merely names. As the chapters begin to pile up, the characters begin to embrace their dynamic.
The reader is better able to visualize who these characters are and how they perceive the protagonist.
With any good novel, there is a transition phase. This transition phase requires patience and commitment so that you can fully envelop yourself into the story. So be patient. Trust me, Assassin’s Apprentice only gets better as you keep reading.
How are the fantasy elements in Assassin’s Apprentice?
The magical foundation of Assassin’s Apprentice was definitely a point of intrigue for me.
The magic system incorporates a number of unique elements that really distinguishes this novel from other fantasy novels.
There are components of alchemy involved. For those of you who do not know what alchemy is, alchemical magic has its basis in science. That means the magic is accomplished primarily by mixing herbs and chemicals to formulate some sort of magical concoction.
Although the alchemy was a nice complementary piece, it was not what made the originality of the magic system. What solidified the creativity and originality of this magic system in my mind was the bond one could develop with an animal.
Those gifted with what is deemed “The Wit” possess the ability to interact psychically with animals. This was a new concept that I was not really anticipating going into this novel. Although it seemed strange at first, it quickly became one of the most compelling fantasy features in my mind.
These are just the basics of the magic system described in Assassin’s Apprentice. Robin Hobb illustrates this magic system in a much more intricate and elegant manner than the way I listed it above!
What are the predominant themes in Assassin’s Apprentice?
One of the premier themes in Assassin’s Apprentice is coming of age.
A coming of age story is defined as a narrative that concentrates on the development of a protagonist from childhood to adulthood. As aforementioned, the upbringing of Fitz during his early years is analyzed in considerable depth.
These descriptions of Fitz continue throughout his growth from child to man. Therefore, this story fits the definition of a coming of age narrative to a tee.
Conflict is a necessary component of coming of age stories because conflict is a necessary component of growing up. The growing pains of Fitz are outlined in great detail as he transitions into adulthood. These pains are illustrated in his thoughts and his behavior.
Being a novel from the first person perspective, it is fairly easy to detect small shifts in his mindset as the story goes along. This was deliberate on the part of Robin Hobb. She knew that the first person viewpoint would coincide flawlessly with the coming of age theme.
Had Assassin’s Apprentice been told from an omniscient third party perspective, none of the private thoughts of Fitz would have been revealed.
The coming of age theme was a nice touch in Assassin’s Apprentice simply because it gave the reader to something cheer for. I genuinely had the desire to see Fitz overcome the plights of childhood and become the man he so desperately needs to be.
This theme definitely caters to the young adult audience more so than any other demographic. So if you are looking to recommend a fantasy novel to a young adult reader, this book is certainly an option to consider.
Another major theme in Assassin’s Apprentice is fate versus free will.
The circumstances that Fitz is born into largely dictates what is to become of him later on in life. His superiors have their own ideas for what type of role they would like Fitz to fulfill. Nobility sees an expendable weapon that can be used at their disposal whenever they see fit.
Fitz being the naive kid he is still has yet to come to this realization.
As he matures and unravels the true extent of his capabilities, Fitz dances with the idea of free will. He dreams of what it would be like to go against the wishes of his superiors. This battle of fate versus free will is a conflict that plagues Fitz throughout the novel.
This begs the question of whether or not Fitz holds any sway over the outcome of his own life. It is a question that is largely up to the reader to answer based on the various controversial developments that take place in the story.
Will Fitz remain frozen with indecision or will he finally take his life into his own hands? It is a compelling inquiry. The answer to which is up to you to find out.
What sort of emotions did Assassin’s Apprentice invoke while you were reading?
Honestly, I did not feel as emotionally invested to the Assassin’s Apprentice as I initially thought I would be.
Given the other fantasy reviews I have read of this novel online, people rave about the Assassin’s Apprentice being one of the most emotionally provoking novels they have ever read. Based on my reading experience, I would have to disagree.
Although Hobb relays the emotions of Fitz well and you are able to understand his misery, I did not establish a solid emotional connection to this protagonist.
Consequently, my emotions just flatlined throughout the majority of the novel. Even for the casual reader, this is a major weakness.
When an individual reads a novel, some of the best moments are sharing the emotional highs and lows of the protagonist. This lack of emotional relatability set this novel back in my mind.
I felt the other literary elements of this novel covered up this weakness rather well. Nonetheless, I consider how I feel when I am reading a novel to be an integral part of how I rate it. Hopefully in the sequel this area will be improved upon.
Is there a follow up novel to Assassin’s Apprentice?
Yes, there is a follow up novel to Assassin’s Apprentice!
Assassin’s Apprentice is the first novel in the Farseer Trilogy. So if you really enjoyed this novel and are looking for more adventures with Fitz, worry not! There are plenty more adventures to be had.
The title of the follow up novel to Assassin’s Apprentice is titled Royal Assassin (The Farseer Trilogy, Book 2).
Assassin’s Apprentice Review Recap
Satisfactory characterization of the main protagonist. The emotional relatability of the protagonist is definitely an area that could use some improvement.
The story did not have as much as physical engagements as I would have liked. Nonetheless, this lack of physical action was made up for in other ways. Will most certainly be giving the next novel a try.
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“Very little worth knowing is taught by fear.”
“Nothing takes the heart out of a man more than the expectation of failure.”
“When you spring to an idea, and decide it is truth, without evidence, you blind yourself to other possibilities.”
“Too late to apologize, I’ve already forgiven you.”
“Most prisons are of our own making. A man makes his own freedom, too.”
Assassin’s Apprentice Review Rating: 6/10!
Back of Book Blurb
In a faraway land where members of the royal family are named for the virtues they embody, one young boy will become a walking enigma.
Born on the wrong side of the sheets, Fitz, illegitimate royal son of Chivalry Farseer, is cast out into the world, friendless and lonely. Only his magical link with animals – the old art known as the Wit – gives him solace and companionship. But the Wit, if used too often, is a perilous magic, and one abhorred by the nobility.
So when Fitz is finally adopted into the royal household, he must give up his old ways and embrace a new life of weaponry, scribing, courtly manners; and how to kill a man secretly, as he trains to become a royal assassin.