Book Review: Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice

Posted November 1, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice

Assassin's Apprentice


Robin Hobb

It is part of the , series and is a fantasy that was published by Voyager on November 5, 2002 and has 447 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

Other books by this author which I have reviewed include Royal Assassin

The very first in the Farseer Trilogy fantasy subseries and the overall Realms of the Elderlings series revolving around FitzChivalry at the start of his extraordinary life.

My Take

My first exposure to Robin Hobb’s Farseer and Realms of the Elderlings came in an ARC, Fool’s Assassin, the first in her The Fitz and the Fool sub series and the seventh in her Realms of the Elderlings overall series.

And Assassin’s Apprentice is just as cozy and intriguing as the seventh. More so in some ways because it sets the stage for what will happen in the future and explains so much of what I wondered about in Fool’s Assassin. I can hardly wait to start in on Royal Assassin to find out about the other events from that seventh book!

We still don’t know who Fitz’s mother was other than Fitz is dumped on his father’s family doorstep in Moonseye, but we do learn quite a bit about Chivalry, his father. And it’s enough to make you cry. It certainly does provide a completely different picture of Patience. Yes, it is a different picture, albeit one that finally fills in those missing bits from Fool’s Assassin. It’s certainly a good argument for being careful and condoms.

There’s a starter history on the Six Duchies touching on the first “real king”, the Taker, and ending with Verity’s marriage to Princess Kettricken of the Mountain Kingdom. It also dips into the why of the odd names the male characters have.

The story itself comes from Fitz who is writing the history of the Six Duchies, and he incorporates some stream-of-conscious along with his I viewpoint. It’s nicely done with some parts of the story looking back with that 20-20 hindsight and other parts feeling very much in the now. It’s never confusing as to which is which, and Hobb does beautifully in showing what’s happening, all while keeping it within that cozy atmosphere.

I gotta say, Hobb comes up with nothing that makes me believe that Chivalry couldn’t have remained the King-in-Waiting.

It’s that first night in Buckkeep that Fitz uses his Skill; he’s already used his Wit to bond with Nosy. And it doesn’t take that long before Burrich discovers that bond. One he considers greater than evil, for Burrich believes it turns a man into an animal himself. I’d sure like to know how Burrich broke this bond between Nosy and Fitz. I suspect Burrich has some Wit himself or at least some kind of training with all that he knows and the ways in which he manages to protect himself. Seems a bit like it’s the pot calling the kettle black.

Chade’s educational style is encompassing, sneaky, very thorough, and quite backdoorish, especially for a spy.

It’s a hard life for Fitz. As a royal bastard, he could be used by anyone and the king must either have him killed or turn him into a loyal tool. Which sounds incredibly depressing until Chade’s words on this, that “most prisons are of our own making” and that even legitimate royal princes must go where they are told and do what they must. It’s a story of careful maneuvering if Fitz is to survive. It’s horrible that anyone should have to suffer this on either end, a father or a son.

Until you first experience their return, you would not understand the horror of the Raiders’ message:
“If the gold is paid, they’ll kill them [the hostages]. If not, they’ll release them.

Throughout the middle of the book, the talk is of the forged, of the raids, how they slip past the towers and escape all vigilance. Of how the kingdom is slipping away from Shrewd. Of the indulgences he allows Regal. Personally, I’d be setting spies on Regal to find out if he’s the one conspiring with the Red Ship Raiders.

I do like Patience. She’s my kind of person. Interested in so many different areas, always wanting to create something, and taking great joy in gardening.

Jeez, when you read of how Galen “teaches” the Skill…you’ll want to take him out back and shoot him. And he’s even worse, if that can be imagined, with Fitz. When you read of his overweening ego, faugh, it will make you sick.

Oh, wow, it’s only in going back over my notes, that it becomes so obvious as to who planned to assassinate Burrich…

It’s not until almost the end of the book before someone, Verity, thinks to tell Fitz what his name is: FitzChivalry Farseer. Fitz sees other things as well, how Shrewd will use up his son to protect his kingdom while pampering the useless one.

It’s a fascinating bit of back history about how the Mountain Kingdom evolved and even more interesting to see how that beginning is honored today. A people you can appreciate. It’s too bad Regal is too obsessed with himself as he doesn’t warn the Buckkeep group of their customs and his people go out of their way to try to embarrass Fitz. I love how the royal household reacts to that one!

It’s a fascinating story that will draw you in, so be sure to set time aside for reading. You will not want to stop!

The Story

It’s a rough introduction to life, time after time for young Fitz. No one really wants him or knows what to do with him, and he finds his own way about, in and out of the castle. The most welcoming place is out with the beggar brats of Buckkeep Town, out of the castle and where he meets Molly, where there are no expectations of him.

It’s some years later before the King encounters Fitz again and realizes it’s safest to claim him, to make him loyal to the Farseers. For it’s use him or bury him.

It’s the expedition to the Duchy of Rippon that Fitz exercises his first diplomatic mission. And quite successfully before Chade pulls Fitz out, and they set off to see a village, Forge, that was raided by Red Ship Raiders. It’s the first of the Forged that the Six Duchies will experience. It will not be the last.

Patience is the next challenge for Fitz, for she is upset that Fitz has been so alone, that Chivalry would not allow him to come to Withywoods. She is frantic with wanting to make up for his past, for he looks so like Chivalry. It will be a painting Fitz does of Smithy that gives her heart.

Galen will be the next stage, and it doesn’t bode well. It takes up so much of Fitz’s time that it’s Molly who tells him the news of Verity’s upcoming wedding. It’s also the moment when Fitz realizes what he feels for Molly.

When Fitz is fourteen, he has a surprise in that twelve men have come forth to stand for him in his Man ceremony. And shortly after that is yet another test, a cruel, vicious betrayal by Galen that will include battle with the Forged.

And Verity is wearing himself to nothing as he Skills to protect the realm…

The Characters

Boy becomes Fitz, a label that means bastard. His maternal grandfather is a plow man. The hound pup Nosy was Boy’s first friend. Sooty is the horse Burrich assigns him. Smithy is the pet terrier puppy Patience gives him and that Fitz hides from Burrich.

Burrich is Chivalry’s man and in charge of his and the king’s stables, his hounds, and his hawks. Now in charge of Boy, whom he warns against using the Wit. Vixen is Burrich’s hound. Cob is a dog boy at the start of the story. Hands is one of the brighter stable boys and nice to Fitz.

Prince Chivalry is the King-in-Waiting married to the Lady Patience who is barren. He is considered ideal for the kingship for his chivalrous nature, his diplomacy, and his skills as a warrior, although everyone decries his choice of wife. Lacey is her lady’s maid. Prince Verity is his next younger brother, a bluff man impatient with diplomacy but a good soldier, talented in Skill, and unmarried. Leon is his ever-present wolfhound. Jason is one of Verity’s guards. Charim is Verity’s man. Prince Regal is their half-brother by their father’s second wife. Sevrens is his favorite valet. Rowd is Regal’s ready man. August is a cousin and fifth in line. He will use his Skill at the wedding to provide a “window” for Verity to see his bride. Shrewd is king and the princes’ father. His current queen, Desire, was a duchess of Tilth and Farrow and still squawks that she could return there and rule as its Queen and her son after her as King.

Chade Fallstar is the king’s spymaster, assassin, and advisor. Now he’ll be Fitz’s tutor in the fine art of diplomatic assassination. Slink is Chade’s weasel. Galen is the Skillmaster at court and must be forced to teach Fitz. Lady Thyme is the king’s poisoner, and she’s definitely a poisonous old lady as Fitz comes to find. Solicity was the Skillmaster before Galen whom she took on as an apprentice at Queen-in-Waiting Desire’s urging. The Fool appears by the king’s side around Fitz’s twelfth or thirteenth year and takes an interest in him.

Buckkeep is…

…the capital city and name of the duchy, later the capital of all Six Duchies, and where the king and his court reside. The ruling house are the Farseers and they are descended from Outislanders. Hod is the weaponsmistress. Brant is the page who resents Fitz. Mistress Hasty is the castle tailor whose assistants and herself have no care for Fitz’s feelings. Master Fedwren teaches the children their letters and will offer Fitz an apprenticeship to be a scribe. I think Whitelock is the cook on their journey to Rippon. Tilly is the orchard girl. Gage is a man-at-arms who challenged Galen and lost.

The beggar brats of town
Kerry, Dirk, Molly “Nosebleed” Chandler (and Nosegay from her mother) works for her father, a drunken sot too quick with his fists, making the best candles in the town in the Beebalm Chandlery. Kittne warns Molly. Mavis Threadsnip encourages Molly to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Jade is a sailor who is interested in Molly.

The Skill students
Prince August is but one of the dozen or so along with Fitz, Serene, and Merry who are to be taught to Skill, a “bridging of thought from person to person”. In the old days, Skillusers were organized in groups of six, in a coterie. The most famous was the Crossfire Coterie who served Queen Vision. A king’s man has a different meaning to those who Skill. It means giving your strength to the one Skilling, AND knowing when to stop giving it to stay alive.

The Wit is a despised magic as it bonds with animals. People believe it makes the wielder act as a beast himself.

Rippon is…

… a duchy whose capital is Neatsbay and is ruled by Duke Kelvar who is supposed to be working with Lord Shemsby in manning the coastal towers against raiders. Lady Grace is Kelvar’s new duchess, and Fitz quickly realizes her problems. The ones besides overindulging her lapdog, Feisty.

There is also Duke Ram of Tilth, Duke Brawndy of Bearns, and the Duke of Farrow among the Inland and Coastal Dukes with whom King Shrewd must deal.

Chyurda are the Mountain Kingdom People

The capital is Jhaampe, and King Eyod is the ruler of this land. His daughter, Princess Kettricken, is the Sacrifice for her people. They keep the Jhampe tradition of service to their people. Prince Rurisk is Kettricken’s brother reported by Regal as a hindrance to be removed. The litter bearers were all women of the royal household and included Jonqui, the King’s own sister.

The Red Ship Raiders are…

…a rebel group of Outislanders who raid the coasts of the Six Duchies and take hostages from the towns. Hostages they threaten to return. The first village to experience the worst is Forge, and it’s from that village that the term Forged is coined to describe those hostages who are sent back without emotion, without what made them human and alive.

El was first Elderling and the god of the sea who gave all its bounties and challenges to his people. Eda is the goddess and Elderling of those who plow and plant and tend the beasts, and the people swear by her. The Pocked Man is a legend people fear, a harbinger of pestilence and plague. A punishment sent by El against people grown too soft.

Back History:
Taker is said to be the first real King. King Victor conquered what became the Duchy of Farrow and then Sandsedge whose queen became wife to Victor’s eldest son and became Queen Graciousness. King Bounty decided to keep the teaching of Skill more secret, more of an elite tool.

The children of both Buckkeep and the Mountain Kingdom inherit by order of birth, not sex.

The Cover and Title

The cover is a background of gorgeous blues, a twilight of the castle against the spiky mountain range with the foreground in pale golds of Chade in his robe holding a heavy candlestick, his hand resting on the kneeling Fitz who is holding his playful dog. The author’s name is bright in white, but doesn’t overwhelm the golden title and series information. A nice blend of colors and sizes that tells you it’s a fantasy.

The title is straight to the point, for Fitz is the Assassin’s Apprentice. He does need a purpose in this seemingly pleasant kingdom.