Assassin's Apprentice
Robin Hobb
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Get *Assassin's Apprentice* delivered to your door! The Farseer: Assassin's Apprentice
Robin Hobb
Bantam Spectra
435 pages
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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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 house.

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.

Also by Robin Hobb:

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