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, son of Chivalry Farseer, is a royal bastard, 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.
Robin Hobb is another of the authors I’ve had recommended to me for ages. I haven’t been actively resisting reading her books—in fact, I’ve been collecting them to begin reading for about a year now. I only recently began reading them, though, since I had enough to be sure that I could complete my collection by the time I got around to reading the books—I like to read a series from start to finish, without breaks in-between. Feels more cohesive to me, I guess.
And I’m glad I did. Hobb is another author whose books I’m sure that I’m going to love and treasure for years. Assassin’s Apprentice, the first in the first trilogy in her Realm of the Elderlings universe, was quite enjoyable, though I did feel that it dragged at times.
As with all good books, though, the strength of this novel lies in the characters. Our main character, Fitz, is the bastard son of the prince who is first in line to inherit the throne, and the entire story is told from his viewpoint. He has a fairly standard list of fantasy protagonist abilities—magic of two kinds, a few good friends, and the occasional exceptional ability, as well as being born into an important role in life. But Hobb somehow manages to never let him seem to be just a trope, instead imbuing him with a rich life and making her world seem very real.
And, of course, there’s the eponymous assassin’s training. Fitz, never to inherit the throne, but still required to be useful by the king, is assigned to learn the assassin’s trade, to become the king’s secret weapon at court. He must learn to juggle these increasingly taxing duties with the pressures of a young man’s life in a court he doesn’t quite fit into. This struggle is part of what defines him so well as a character, at least for me.
The threats of the novel do not become clear until later parts of it, and so I will not discuss the plot too much here—anything else would be a spoiler. I’ll simply say that the majority of the novel is spent introducing and moving the characters around, so it’s okay if you don’t understand where everything is going until the end.
This strategy worked fine for me. Not only Is Fitz himself a brilliant character, but so is the entire supporting cast, from Burrich to Chade to the Fool to Molly. They all feel so real, I almost expected to look up from my book and see one of them standing in my doorway every few pages. I feel as if I’ve come to know them personally.
And so, when Hobb starts heating things up, it hurts. Hobb, I’ve been told, is one of the most notorious character torturers in all of Fantasy. I’m not sure if I believe that, yet, but I definitely felt some serious pangs while reading this book, and even if she doesn’t torture her characters any more than a normal author does, she certainly makes you feel it more than most of them do, just by how real she makes her characters feel.
And while the plot takes a while to get truly going, the ending makes up for it in the number of emotional beats it manages to hit. By the end, I had tears in my eyes, and I immediately started on the second book, Royal Assassin, which I’m hoping to finish soon.
In summary, Robin Hobb’s Fool’s Assassin was a delightful, torturous, and slightly slow read that has some of the best characters I’ve read in a long time. I’m not fully convinced yet, but I’m fairly certain she’s going onto my favorites shelf as I read more and more of her books, and I give this one a solid four out of five stars, and a hearty recommendation.