Monday, July 6, 2009


Assassin’s Apprentice (1995) is the first novel in Robin Hobb’s Farseer fantasy trilogy. Fitz, the bastard son of the heir to the throne, is taken as a child to the royal court, where he is taught all manner of things, including the art of assassinry, and where he gets embroiled in some political intrigue.

For someone as talented and clever as Fitz is supposed to be (Hobb has made him an extremely articulate narrator), he’s frequently distractingly slow on the uptake, especially when it comes to recognizing people the reader has identified pages earlier. On the whole, Fitz is fairly sympathetic because of his circumstances, but he isn’t particularly likeable – not because he’s an assassin, but because he’s so darn namby-pamby (there’s precious little assassination going on here anyway).

The pacing of Assassin’s Apprentice is tough to deal with. The novel gets off to a bad slow beginning, settles into something of a groove, then relapses into a series of fits and starts. Considering how much political intrigue Hobb has set up, it’s surprising how little actually happens. One reason for this is that many of the characters, including Fitz himself, are so very passive. Another is that Hobb doesn’t do a great job establishing place, especially when the location changes.

Hobb writes in the stiff, pretentious, flowery manner reserved almost exclusively for the fantasy genre – that can (and unfortunately must) be overlooked in most modern fantasy novels. More egregious is Hobb’s choice of narrative mode. Assassin’s Apprentice is in the first person, and it often borders on first-person omniscient. Fitz recounts his childhood like he was the most observant six year old in the world, with a photographic memory to boot (Fitz then skips over some boring and unimportant parts of the story with a few jarring I can’t remembers). Fitz chronicles the thoughts and feelings of others, and even the actions of those where he isn’t present. (A great deal of this cannot be attributed to Fitz’s use of “the Skill”.) It is as if Hobb selected first-person, got stuck, and plowed on through anyway. 

All of this is rather a shame since Hobb’s scenario has potential; it’s too bad the story and the writing are so lacking. In spite of the reader’s best efforts to immerse himself (or herself) in the story, Assassin’s Apprentice is just too problematic, and readers may well decide they aren’t interested in the sequels, both of which are considerably longer than this one.