Margaret Ogden, who has written ten other books under alternative names, as well as a plethora of short stories and collections.
I read Assassin's Apprentice as the designated monthly novel of the Norwich SciFi and Fantasy book club, where it received ratings of between 7 and 9 out of 10. I tend towards the lower end of that spectrum, but every fantasy novel I read these days is compromised unfairly by due comparison to Game of Thrones.
'Assassin's Apprentice' follows the story of the upbringing of royal bastard Fitz, sometime son of the King-in-Waiting, Chivalry Farseer. From his earliest memory of being dumped on the royal doorstep, Fitz makes a home at Buckkeep Castle, including friends, enemies and lessons. When he reaches his teenage years, King Shrewd moves him from the protection of stablemaster Burritch to the care of the Royal Assassin.
The long years of Hobb's own long apprenticeship are immediately apparent, with her words bringing to life a colourful kingdom that immediately felt very real. Each chapter begins with a telling of a minor matter of history or intrigue about the Six Duchies, and this helps to bring them to life. A reader can fully appreciate Buckkeep, 'an end place for a journey, a panorama of noise and people', the kingdom of Jhaampe, 'best compared to chancing upon a patch of crocus, pushing up through snow and black earth' and the salty spray that heralds the unwelcome arrival of raiders from the Outislands.
|Outislanders - Vikings that zombify their victims.|
Less engaging is the interaction between characters, and the necessity of the POV means that you typically see more of the characters in relation to Fitz, rather than as a complex web of interrelationships that bind characters to one another. This is not a deal breaker by any means, but inevitably the narrative suffers in comparison to Game of Thrones, which has the luxury of multiple POVs to build greater complexity.
There was also a certain sense of disappointment about the Wit and the Skill, trite names for important concepts within the novel. That the chief scourge of the Kingdom, the raiding Outislanders, have the ability to somehow dehumanise their victims, making them little more than zombies, is an interesting idea, but the name they give to this process - Forging - somewhat undermines the fearful nature of the concept.
A love story is hinted at, and then seemingly disregarded. Obviously, this is something that may be explored more fully in future books, but it contributed once more to a feeling of a story that falls rather flat in the wrong places. Fortunately, the supporting cast is more well-rounded than Fitz himself, adding emotional depth that the main character fails to supply. There is one particularly satisfying moment when a notably foul character receives a lesson, and I felt genuinely cheered by this.
Overall, 'Assassin's Apprentice' is an extremely well-written effort set in a simple but effectively designed world. It is clear that Hobb can create absorbing characters, but I felt she could have done more to swiftly capture the events that drive the narrative and engage me as a reader. While I would be happy to read more fiction set in this world, I wouldn't rush to read more about Fitz.
Robin Hobb's next novel, 'The Fool's Assassin' (book 1 of a second trilogy about the same main character) is set for release in the UK in August 2014.