TL;DR: Worth the hype, Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb is an immersive fantasy story that leaves you rooting for the protagonist
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2
Fitz is a royal bastard of Prince Chivalry, who was foisted on the royal family when he was five years old. With no one else willing to take him, he’s given to the stablemaster to raise and train. When Fitz gets the attention of King Shrewd, his path in life changes and he learns there is more to the world than horses and dogs.
Robin Hobb is a beloved fantasy author and I’ve just never picked up on of his books. When this title came up as a possible fit for my Fantasy Bingo card YA square, I decided to give it a read. And boy am I glad I did! I loved this book. The world building is solid, the book is so immersive, you can almost smell what Fitz smells, and Fitz’s journey, while full of tropes, is interesting, heart-wrenching, and entertaining. For all that and more, I give it 4.5 stars.
Fitz is the bastard son of Prince Chivalry and he is left on the King’s doorstep by his grandfather when he is only five. As there’s no one else to take him in, the stablemaster, Burrich, trains him, houses him, and teaches him what he needs to know about the world.
When he comes to the attention of King Shrewd, his life changes from living in the stables to living in the castle. Once inside, he’s taught the deadly art of being an assassin. After Prince’s Chivalry’s untimely death, Fitz is pulled in even deeper to the family dynamic by being trained in a magic known as the Skill.
The years pass, but Fitz’s loneliness doesn’t. However, he finds a way to make friends and works hard to learn everything everyone is trying to teach him. Soon, he is given a mission to kill a neighboring royal, something he doesn’t see the need to do once he meets him. However, he’ll find out that being a tool for the King isn’t as dangerous as the politics behind the throne.
What I liked & liked less
I loved this book. The writing is immersive, the world building intense and yet not overwhelming, and Fitz’s journey, while slow, is interesting. He grows as a character in a way that feels realistic and you root for him every step of the way.
Fitz just wants to fit in and have friends. This part of his character doesn’t change, although how he goes about finding his friends does. He’s a normal boy put into an impossible situation and he makes the best of it. I liked his POV and found his naivete and growth to fit well with what we know about him.
Burrich, the stablemaster, is also a complex character. Some of his decisions, though, made me want to throw the book at him. They make sense and they fit with his character, but it still drove me crazy. However, you get to see multiple sides to who is and what drives him, which is why I was so invested in his character.
The magic in the book is told through Fitz’s training, which is great worldbuilding. At no point did I feel the author was dumping us with exposition. We learned it as Fitz learned it. I also liked the political intrigue, the backstabbing in the court, and some of the things Fitz missed from his POV.
I also liked how the women were portrayed in the book – from Fitz’s perspective, of course. The author uses the standard medieval tropes and tweaks them ever so slightly. What we get is a view that women should be more than just arm candy for the royals and I loved that.
What I liked less about the story is how much emphasis is put on Fitz’s loneliness. His reactions to specific events in the book are almost too extreme for me, while somewhat fitting with his character. I would’ve liked him to grow more on that score, but maybe he will in the next books in the series.
To Sum Up (Too Late!)
If you want to read a well-hyped fantasy book and not be disappointed, you’ll like Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb. While some dislike the character of Fitz, I loved his world view and how he saw the situation. The book is immersive without being overly descriptive, fantastical without being overwhelming, and realistic without being brutal. For all that and more, I gave this 4.5 stars.
About the Author
Robin Hobb is the author of three well-received fantasy trilogies: The Farseer Trilogy (Assassin’s Apprentice, Royal Assassin, and Assassin’s Quest), The Liveship Traders Trilogy (Ship of Magic, Mad Ship and Ship of Destiny) and the Tawny Man Trilogy (Fool’s Errand, Golden Fool, and Fool’s Fate) Her current work in progress is entitled Shaman’s Crossing. Robin Hobb lives and works in Tacoma, Washington, and has been a professional writer for over 30 years.
In addition to writing, her interests include gardening, mushrooming, and beachcombing. She and her husband Fred have three grown children and one teenager, and three grand-children.
She also writes as Megan Lindholm, and works under that name have been finalists for the Hugo award, the Nebula Award, and the Endeavor award. She has twice won an Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Readers’ Award.
This fills in the YA square of my Fantasy Bingo 2023 card.