In an effort to broaden my horizons in Fantasy, I have been keeping my ears open for recommendations from authors that I respect and admire. A few months ago, Chuck Wendig posted on Twitter that ASSASSIN’S APPRENTICE was a must read, and (I’m paraphrasing) a beautiful, brutal book. If you’ve read anything by Wendig, you’ll be interested to know what he sees as brutal. So, I put it on my to-read list and (when I couldn’t find it locally) ordered it online.
In the meantime, several other authors and reviewers that I follow brought up the glory that is ASSASSIN’S APPRENTICE, and I learned more about Robin Hobb. Here’s the thing–I love Fantasy. I think it, and write it, and breathe it, and worship the very ground that it bleeds on. But I didn’t find it until I was an adult, really. So I am behind the times. This book–I should have read it almost 20 years ago. I should have, by this time, been wrapped up in an obsession with this series, and the others that follow it, for most of my adult life. I should have already been as obsessed with this world as I am with Westeros. Hell–even GRRM blurbed about ASSASSIN’S APPRENTICE, “Fantasy as it ought to be written.”
Those are great big words from a great big author, and I doubt that I have anything to add that others haven’t already said, but I’ll try.
The first thing that drew me into this book was the age of the protagonist, Fitz, at the opening of the novel. He is six years old. I have a six year old, and as Fitz went about some truly life-altering experiences, in my mind, he was my little guy. And that’s where the brutality of this book lies. Fitz, throughout this first book, is a child. This is not the gruesome, bloody savagery of Martin’s Westeros. This is the terrible alone-ness of a little boy, thrust into a world that will only ever see him as a tool.
Hobb is brilliant in her weaving of the tale. Not too gentle, yet not too barbaric. We are dipped, lovingly, into the Six Duchies. Cradled in the warmth of the stables, drawn out, into the intrigues of Buckkeep. We, as readers, are granted the indulgence of seeing the adult characters through adult eyes, while simultaneously viewing them through the hooded, shadowed lenses that Fitz sees them through. Fitz is a remarkable child–observant and kind, intelligent and gifted. But he is also a child. We are given the gift of seeing those around him as he cannot–the silent, secretive protectors, the adroit handlers that do all that they can, including risking themselves, for the love of Fitz’s father who cannot acknowledge his bastard son.
Because I know, so intimately, a six year old boy–I instantly fell in love with Fitz. As he grew, in my mind, he became my older son (now twelve) and full of his own ideas of what a man is. Fitz is flawed in only the way a child can be–beautifully. Brutally.
In the end, the story left me gasping for more–so clearly is there so much more to tell, and I am infinitely grateful that the next books are readily available. This is a hero’s quest, flawed and damaged as our hero may be, and it has become clear to me that I have only scratched the surface. Robin Hobb has done something stunningly complex–building a man from the skin and bones of a tiny boy. Fitz comes to life, on the pages. Her words breathe into him the stuff of life. Not just the heroics, the kindness and the brilliance, but also the failings, the weaknesses, the hubris.
I also ADORE the gentle gender-politics that play out, throughout its pages. Certainly there are women that are mistreated and abused, dismissed and ignored. But also, there are men, just as maligned. Beautifully entwined, are women of power and strength. There are leaders among them, there are teachers and masters and Queens. There are petty women, women of integrity, and every sort of women in between. Just like the men. And not a damsel in distress among them.
There was truth to what Wendig said. The book is beautiful and brutal, but it is much more than that. It is not the grim darkness that we’ve come to expect from Martin and Abercrombie, nor the bantering heroics of Rothfuss. It is something different. Something special, a vicious hopefulness. With this book, I have come to understand why Robin Hobb’s name is spoken amongst the greats of Fantasy. She has certainly, in my estimation, earned every fair word.