Book Review: Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

Cover art by Michael Whelan

Summary (minor spoilers here): Recounted as a coming-of-age autobiography by the main character, we enter the world of the Six Duchies through six year old Fitz who is both dangerous and in danger simply because he exists. Fitz is the bastard son of Prince Chivalry, the King-in-Waiting. He possesses an ability to bond with animals called the Whit which can lead to a total derangement of humanity if used to excess. Fearful that will be his fate, his keeper, Burrich, strictly forbids use of the Whit. This restriction, not entirely understood by the child who finds it so natural to see and sense and hear through the eyes of his puppy friend, becomes a source of estrangement between Fitz and Burrich, and the beginning of a deep loneliness for Fitz that all the human company in the world cannot fully satisfy. Burrich is the first of many in Fitz’s life to shape the man and assassin he will one day become. He is one small boy who simultaneously occupies a place both high and low within his society, and he must learn to navigate within that society if he wants to continue to live.

I enjoyed the story so much so, it surprised me to find others found the story lacking. After perusing their reviews, I found some merit to the issues they had with the story. The things which they did not like were the things I did.

While I heartily recommend this tale, I will stress it is the autobiography of a fictional character. The world building is immersive. We learn about the world as Fitz learns about his world, and what is fantastical for readers, might be common place in the Six Duchies. It is treated as so, and not elaborated on. People that are irrelevant to Fitz’s development into manhood are treated as irrelevant and summarized rather than exposited. This might leave some wanting, but it is exactly what I would expect of an autobiographical acount of a man’s formative years. As such, the pacing is a bit slow at times, and there are several info-dumps through out the story. I did not find this to be a detractor. These summary reflections added the wisdom of hindsight to Fitz’s tale. These were not heavy handed, but succint and substantive in that they provided a broader context that nuanced Fitz’s story. The conflicts were subtle, character driven and long-term. The resolution of those conflicts proved deeply satisfying and I am eagerly looking forward to reading the next installment of this series.

It should be noted I listed to the audio book version of this story as read by Paul Boehner.