book review: Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

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ASSASSIN’S APPRENTICE by Robin Hobb
Farseer Trilogy #1
★★★★☆
Harper Voyager 2014
originally published in 1995

 

Something that I’ve often heard said about Robin Hobb is that her Farseer trilogy is one of her weaker series, but that it’s worth persevering in order to get to the good stuff. So with that in mind, Assassin’s Apprentice was pretty much what I thought it was going to be: at times maddeningly slow and expository, but a promising introduction to something that I believe has the potential to develop into a much stronger story.

Assassin’s Apprentice introduces us to a very generic medieval fantasy world, where we follow Fitz, the bastard son of a prince who retires in ignominy once it comes to light that he fathered Fitz out of wedlock. Though Fitz is raised at Buckkeep, the royal palace, he’s reviled by most of the nobility from an early age, and he takes solace with his connection to animals, until one day he’s approached by the King’s royal assassin, who tells Fitz that he’s to train him as an apprentice.

So let’s start with the one major downside: on a scale between fast paced and slow burn, this book scores off the charts on the slow side. Fitz is a relentlessly thorough narrator, who sees fit to inform us of every thought that enters his head between the ages of 6 and 14, and while I liked Fitz as a character and found him sympathetic, I wouldn’t have minded a highlight reel of the first half of this book. I’m a little concerned about the fact that this book is half the length of the next two in this trilogy, as the consensus seems to be that it’s only worth pushing through this series in order to get to the next one. I’m willing to persevere, but as it took me nearly three weeks to finish this book I’m a little apprehensive.

But let’s move onto the things I did like, the reasons why I am interested in continuing with these books: Robin Hobb’s writing is just lovely. Sometimes it’s detailed to a fault, but more often than not the detail does do wonders in bringing the setting to life. The world-building may not have been terribly thorough (which I actually don’t mind, as world-building is one of the elements of fantasy that I’m least interested in), but the atmosphere of this book is immersive from start to finish. But what I liked even more was the character work, which was remarkably solid all around. Fitz was a compelling protagonist, and the background characters were all intriguing and well-crafted. Enough of their motivations remained hidden from the reader that this aspect dovetailed fantastically with the book’s central theme of loyalty – Fitz’s loyalties are laid bare for the reader from the beginning, but the question of which characters are loyal to Fitz in return remains nebulous throughout. This culminated in an uncharacteristically pacey last couple of chapters, which gave us a simply brilliant conclusion to the groundwork that Hobb had spent a few hundred pages laying.

So overall, I’m pleased, I’m intrigued, I’m a little nervous about this book’s slow pace continuing on in a 800-page sequel, but check back with me in a year and I think I’ll have found a new favorite fantasy author in Robin Hobb.

You can pick up a copy of Assassin’s Apprentice here on Book Depository.

21 thoughts on “book review: Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

  1. I’ve always been apprehensive about picking up Hobb for the very same reasons as you (I don’t often reach for full-blown fantasy, and I struggle with huge, slow books). That said, everyone seems to rave about her characters and atmosphere, both of which I love. So, reading this review was very interesting! I’d be very intrigued to see how you get on as the series progresses, especially since everyone seems to agree that things only get better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have a feeling that the next two reviews are going to be more of the same, but I’ve heard nothing but good things about her next two series, so I’m really hoping it will be worth persevering. I also tend to struggle with fantasy, but for whatever reason I’ve been feeling like a favorite epic fantasy series is a void missing in my reading, so here’s to hoping Hobb can fill it!

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  2. I knew I would love this review! I was thinking that this was gonna be another one of your 4-star rating reviews that is actually negative (like the Raven Boys), but it wasn’t 😂 I have wanted to pick up Robin Hobb for ages and since you are not that into Fantasy and still liked this, makes me think I will like it too. Great review!!

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    • Welcome to Rachel’s blog where the reviews are made up and the star ratings don’t matter 😂 Anyway, I think there’s a good chance you’d like her! It’s not a perfect book by a long shot but I think it shows a lot of promise.

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  3. Hmm, the fact that this book is so slow is what made me hesitate to pick it up in the first place! As you know I’m not a huge fan of books that are too heavily detailed and take a long time to get going. I *have* heard that one can simply skip this trilogy and read certain other ones set in this world, but I suppose I’d have to do a bit more research on that before deciding!

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    • I really don’t know what you’d think of this! On the one hand its slow pace and lack of female characters in the first half of the book do not seem like things you would enjoy, but it also just has this lovely classic fantasy vibe that I think you could get into? So, I’m not sure what I’d recommend… I’ve also heard you can skip the first trilogy, so maybe that’s the way to go. But also, the first book is only 400 pages (lol, ‘only’ compared to the rest of them) so maybe it’s worth trying this one to get a feel for her writing?

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  4. I don’t mind a slow paced book, so I think I’ll enjoy this. Thanks for the review, I think I’ll pick it up! Have been recommended it a few times (even by my aunt), and it does sound great!

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  5. Lovely review! I feel exactly the same way about this book, I even DNF’ed it a couple of times because of the slow pace. It didn’t help that I’ve read enough epic fantasy coming of age narratives about boys to last a couple of lifetimes. I definitley agree with everyone else that the series improves though. I love a lot of the new characters that are introduced in the later books and I find the plots a lot more engaging. No one would ever accuse them of being fast paced though. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the next book!

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    • Part of the reason I don’t like to DNF is that I know I’ll never go back to the book and it’s better for me to just push through, so I’m impressed that you managed to persevere!! I’m really looking forward to the next books though! I’m a little scared about the remaining ones in this trilogy but I’m sure I’ll find elements in them that I love despite the slow pace. I think I’m picking the next one up in April!

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  6. Great review! This sounds promising, although it does seem challenging to stick with three long books before you get to what you’re really interested in. I haven’t tried Robin Hobb yet because her books do seem like a giant undertaking, but perhaps they’re more manageable than I thought. I hope the rest of this series goes as well for you as this first book!

    Liked by 1 person

    • If the general consensus was that all of her series were on par with one another, I’m not sure I’d continue, because despite the elements that I really enjoyed in this one, it took forever to read and the slow pace was just obscene. But apparently the following trilogies are amazing, so I’m really looking forward to those. I do think it’s going to be worth reading this trilogy first, even though I don’t think you technically have to, but the third trilogy follows Fitz as an adult so I think I’ll enjoy having read about his childhood. So yes, fingers crossed that the rest of this Robin Hobb endeavor goes smoothly!

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