Upon devouring Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy, I already felt sorry for the next book I would read. Any act on the heels of a brilliant trilogy would be hard to follow. So, could Robin Hobb’s The Assassin’s Apprentice fill those shoes?
I’m about halfway through the first book in her Medieval fantasy series. Join me now in my initial review. Written entirely from the first person perspective of a nameless bastard of a Medieval king-in-waiting, The Assassin’s Apprentice begins with the titular character recounting his early childhood. Our poor young bastard is plucked from his mother, a peasant, and taken in as a stable boy at the royal keep where his paternal grandfather, the King, resides.
Meanwhile, his biological father, the King’s eldest son, abdicates his claim to the throne and banishes himself to a far off land, never even meeting his bastard son, the protagonist. The young bastard, nicknamed Fitz, soon is taken under the wings of the King’s secret assassin to be skilled in the arts of subtlety, coercion, herbal medicine, and assassination.
Oh, and one other thing. Fitz can read the minds of animals. Yeah, odd. I know, right? At least, it’s a magical element that seemed to come out of left field to me as a reader. In fact, the way the magic — called “questing” — is introduced is so subtle that I actually thought it was the byproduct of poor editing, rather than anything intentional.
Specifically, there is a scene towards the beginning wherein young Fitz recounts being out with one of the dogs from the stable. Our story is, of course, told entirely from Fitz’s perspective. However, in the narrative he recounts memories belonging to the dog, which he couldn’t possibly know. I was so off put by this basic writing mistake that I nearly put the book down for good.
As it turns out, it wasn’t a novice error in switching perspectives mid-chapter. The author was introducing Fitz’s magical abilities so subtly that it wasn’t even perceptible. I have to fault her editors for not calling out the excess subtlety there. There is a surprisingly fine balance between beating one’s reader over the head with something and being so imperceptible that it looks like a messy error.
Without revealing any more of the plot, I will say that the story itself it shaping up nicely. At the halfway mark, it is turning mildly into a page-turner — though that is generous of me to say. I am finding myself to care vaguely for the characters — but again, only vaguely.
What, you ask, is the issue? Well, the author’s style of prose for the first 100+ pages was just.so.expository. I won’t lie: There were a number of moments during the first couple of chapters that I literally shook my head and asked myself aloud, “how the hell did this get published?!”
It is as if the first few chapters are written entirely as a blurb or book report summary. Candidly, I kept wondering to myself, when is the book going to start?
So, all of that said, it will come as no shock to my readers that, so far, I give this book a mere 2 hearts out of 5. The plot itself, though simplistic, is enough to keep me plowing through the pages.
Stay tuned, though, because who knows. Perhaps it will turn out to pick up steam and have a brilliant finish!
Until next time,