This is another in my recent series of posts that I’m calling, “What in God’s name can I possibly find to schedule for publishing today.”
I saw some folks on Twitter talking about the Farseer books by Robin Hobb, and since I’ve been looking for new stuff to consume, I bought the first book on Kindle, Assassin’s Apprentice. I almost used an Audible credit on it, but I have some complex rules about whether to get books in text format or audiobook format, and this one came up as text format. Besides, it was only $1.99.
I’ve always had a slight aversion to fantasy books about thieves and assassins. I don’t know why, but I do. I guess thieves and assassins seem very tropey to me–it feels like if you stacked up every fantasy book ever released, half of them would be about thieves and assassins.
Anyway, this assassin book traces the life and times of “Fitz,” a bastard son of royalty, and his development from a generally nice kid into a king’s spy and assassin (and a generally nice young adult). The book is written in first-person from Fitz’s perspective, presumably writing his memoirs from some distant future.
I was very surprised to see that it’s set in a European-style medieval world. I didn’t think this was “allowed” in fantasy anymore, but I later found out this book was published in 1995, when it was still safe.
I used to be very meticulous about reading every single word in every book I bought, but as I’ve gotten older and want to sample more and more varied books, I’ve come up with quicker method: I only read the first sentence of every paragraph until my interest is piqued or I decide to pass on the book entirely. I used that technique in this book, because frankly the very first sentence was a little off-putting (“A History of the Six Duchies is of necessity a history of its ruling family, …”).
I’ll be honest. I skipped a lot of words until I got to about the 50% mark, after which I started slowing down, and I think I only fully read the last few chapters in their entirety. I found the writing overstuffed with descriptive yet mundane details and lacking in hooks to draw me in. There were some parts of some chapters here and there that I enjoyed, but especially in the first half I felt like I was going through an endless prologue, waiting for a story to begin. Younger me probably wouldn’t have minded, but older me watching the sands of life slowly draining away prefers to make optimal use of his reading time.
I like to see character relationships and especially character conflicts in stories. But there is very little conflict in the early going. The first real contentious relationship begins in Chapter 14 (“Galen”), at the 51% mark. Literally half the book goes by before our main character faces any real opposition or obstacles. (There is some chafing here and there with Burrace’s opposition to The Wit, but that’s barely worth mentioning.) The inciting incident and the real plot that entangles our main character through the end of the book does not begin until Chapter 19 (“Journey”) which is at the 75% mark. Everything before that is largely backstory.
Robin Hobbs’ writing is good and engaging. (Too good–the vocabulary and sentence structures made me feel quite inadequate as a writer.) I mentioned that it’s first-person voice, but it’s not the sarcastic blogger style of voice that you’ve probably seen overused in urban fantasy and young adult books.
I most enjoyed the relationships that developed between Fitz and his various dog companions, but admittedly I am a sucker for animals in books. I wish there had been more of that here. But I’m glad there wasn’t more of that or I would have been an emotional wreck. I generally try to avoid books and movies about animals because I get too wrapped up in them.
Will I read more of this series? Maybe. Probably not. But possibly. I don’t know. The first book has a reasonable ending point, if not a great one. There are plenty of remaining questions, like what is going on with The Fool, and what is Burrace’s problem with The Wit. I would like to know those answers, but unfortunately I don’t have much interest in learning how the political machinations around the Duchies turn out. The royalty characters remained mostly off-screen and I felt little or no bond develop with them or their lives. I also found Fitz himself a bit lacking as a character to carry a whole series (he seemed emotionally flat from start to finish), and there weren’t many supporting characters around him.
Overall I would rate it as “okay” except for the final two chapters which were “good.” (I stayed up late to finish those chapters so that’s how good they were.) Maybe I’ll get some of the sequels in audiobook format for later.