Book Review: Royal Assassin


Royal Assassin

From Goodreads:

Fitz has survived his first hazardous mission as king’s assassin, but is left little more than a cripple. Battered and bitter, he vows to abandon his oath to King Shrewd, remaining in the distant mountains. But love and events of terrible urgency draw him back to the court at Buckkeep, and into the deadly intrigues of the royal family.

Renewing their vicious attacks on the coast, the Red-Ship Raiders leave burned-out villages and demented victims in their wake. The kingdom is also under assault from within, as treachery threatens the throne of the ailing king. In this time of great danger, the fate of the kingdom may rest in Fitz’s hands—and his role in its salvation may require the ultimate sacrifice.

Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb is a typical second book in what is shaping up to be a very enjoyable first trilogy, and I quite enjoyed jumping into it straight after finishing the first book in the trilogy, Assassin’s Apprentice.

Royal Assassin brings us back to all of our favorite characters, at least, those who survived the first book. In particular, we follow Fitz’s viewpoint for the entire story again, watching as he starts to really be an adult and have some power over those around him. He continues to grow more relatable, even though his life is far from anything I’ve ever experienced. His struggles feel real, and at times, incredibly frustrating.

We also see more of Burrich, Chade, Royal and Verity, Shrewd, and Molly, all the characters we came to know in the first book. There are hardly any new additions, however, and this book is very much a “dig deeper” instead of “spread wider” type of book, something rather uncommon in the fantasy world these days. I liked this digging, as it helped to give the feel that Hobb has complete control over her plot and characters, instead of letting them run rampant and multiply as, say, GRRM has done.

The magic continues to be semi-standard telepathic type magic, and it’s not the main focal point of the novel, though it continues to play an important role. I found myself neither excited nor disappointed by its possibilities—nothing short of Hurley or Sanderson levels of magical coolness gets me excited anymore—but it was well thought out and served its purpose well.

I found that, because I continued to be more and more engaged by the same characters, that this book didn’t have quite the same dragging feeling that the first book had, though it also wasn’t an incredibly fast book. There is no breakneck plot, which is just fine. This is the kind of book that enjoys what it is, and it feels good.

The emotional hooks here are definitely deeper too, and Hobb continues to put her characters through the wringer. While the tension only very gradually rises, the amount of pain the characters are going through is at a constant high level, both emotionally and at times physically. This, perhaps, more than anything, is what makes the book so engaging, and overall gave it a more cohesive feel.

The plot is the most “second book” part of the book, for sure. It leaves all of its threads unresolved, and I didn’t feel like it really even ended the threads that it should have. It did have an intense ending, but I have to admit that I was expecting more to be tied up, and new problems expanded for the third and final book.

In summary, Royal Assassin was a satisfying second book that dug deeper into all of the characters that we came to know in the first book, and used this digging to intensify the emotional pain that Hobb could deal to them. I did not find the plot to be as satisfying as I had hoped, and while it does leave me wanting the third book, I wish it had resolved a few more threads with its conclusion. I definitely give it four of five stars, though, as I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to what I hope is a conclusive final volume in the trilogy.

Robin Hobb.



Book Review: Assassin’s Apprentice

Assassin's Apprentice

From Goodreads:

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.

Robin Hobb.