book review: Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb

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ROYAL ASSASSIN by Robin Hobb
(Farseer trilogy #2)
★★★★★
Harper Voyager 2014
originally published in 1996
[Assassin’s Apprentice ★★★★☆]

 

A 5-star rating feels a little disingenuous seeing as it took me over 6 months to finish this book, but the best books aren’t always the ones you race through.  I liked taking my time with Royal Assassin, the second book in Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy, which I enjoyed so much more than the first now that I was properly invested in the characters and the conflicts.

Is this book perfect, no; is it about 200 pages longer than it needs to be, YES; but there’s just so much to love here.  I think Fitz is an incredibly complex and sympathetic protagonist, his bond with Nighteyes was fascinating, and I absolutely adored that all of the female characters (namely Patience, Kettricken, and Molly) were so much more fleshed out here than they were in Assassin’s Apprentice.  (I’m gathering from scanning some other reviews that people really don’t like Molly?  I don’t understand that; I think she’s a great character and I don’t think her relationship with Fitz is framed as something we’re meant to root for, at least at this stage – I think it’s painfully clear to the reader how blind he is to the suffering their situation causes her, and that is very much the point.)

Anyway, I can’t wait to continue this series and then hopefully move onto the Liveship Traders soon after.  I think 2020 will be a big Robin Hobb year for me. It’s been a while since I’ve been this excited about a fantasy writer.


Book Depository links: Assassin’s Apprentice | Royal Assassin

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.