One notable aspect of the central character in a fantasy novel or series
is often this: the hero is marked in some way, with a talent or by
fact of birth or by the hand fate deals them, as different from others
in his or her world. This being set apart from the main part of their
society leads to an aloneness that they often cannot assuage. If there
were only one thing done well in Assassin's Apprentice, the
first novel of "The Farseer," it might be that Robin Hobb creates so
true a loneliness in the outcast Fitz's life that the reader honestly
feels the emptiness and pain almost empathically. But, thankfully,
that is not the only thing done well in this debut. Robin Hobb has
crafted an absorbing coming-of-age tale in a world where an outcast
has his uses -- and enemies -- in the noble machinations of a royal
Fitz is the bastard son of Chivalry, who is the heir to the throne of
the Six Duchies. When the Prince learns of this result of his
indiscretion six years later, he abdicates his right of succession,
leaving Fitz to the care of his blunt-speaking stablemaster. So this
illegitimate boy is raised in and around the stables of Buckkeep, "Fitz"
to some, "Boy" to many, and "Bastard" to all. His life is lonely but
simple, his one true friend a pup that he bonds to unknowingly in the
way of the Wit. When Burrich, the stablemaster, discovers the forbidden
affinity between boy and dog, he brutally severes the bond, leaving
Fitz heartbroken and alone once again. Old King Shrewd notices his
bastard grandson in the kitchens one day, and sees a use for this
boy who is and yet is not of the royal bloodline. He asks for and
receives an oath of loyalty from Fitz, and begins to have him tutored
in the diplomacy of the knife. Fitz is made secret apprentice to the
king's own shadow assassin.
Fitz has made friends of sorts with a band of ragamuffin children down
in Buckkeep Town, but most of his time now must be spent up in the Keep.
He is taught to fight by the arms master, learns to read and write,
is trained in the almost extinct art of Skilling that flows in his
blood, continues working with Burrich in the stables. He also learns of
poison and stealth, intrigue and deceipt, in midnight lessons with the
mysterious Chade, a man whose existence is not even acknowledged. And
while Fitz is learning to kill for his king, the coasts of the Six
Duchies are ravaged by Red Ship raiders who destroy for the sake of
destruction and return their captives to wreak an even more demoralizing
sort of havoc. Somehow the raiders leave those they have captured
soulless, devoid of even animal sensibilities, and these Forged ones
threaten to utterly undermine the spirit of the folk of the Six Duchies.
Only two options are left to those whose loved ones have been Forged:
keep them forever confined and unable to destroy anything around them,
or kill them.
Shrewd decides that Verity, next in line to the throne, will marry a
princess of the Mountain Kingdom to cement an alliance between the
two kingdoms, and Fitz suddenly has his first assignment. He is to
kill the brother of his uncle's intended bride, and he must do it
without Chade's assistance or advice. What he will learn is that
neither being a king's man nor an outcast is enough to protect him
from treachery, that a bastard can be a threat even to a fully
blooded prince of the kingdom, and especially that a bastard can be all
too expendable. Assassin's Apprentice is immensely readable.
And, at 435 pages, it's a nice break in length from those really fat
fantasies while providing a story at least as satisfying.