The Assassin’s Apprentice is a strange novel, in that it eschews both the traditional settings and fantasy elements for a grittier look at fantasy worlds, focusing on histories and characters that would ordinarily fall to the wayside. Burrich the Stable-master for example has more depth than many main characters, despite being inconsequential to the world as a whole. That’s where the book shines really, a few incredibly complex characters and how they interact with each other. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the rest of the book.
Oh the prose is good in its own way, having a rambling and oft confused quality to it, due I’m sure to these being the memoirs of an old Fitz recounting his youth, and still managing to portray the events as they happen clearly. You know how a scene is laid out, how each character looks at another, even the atmosphere of the room is clearly portrayed. The problem is, so much of it is forgettable. Promising characters and plotlines come up, such as Lady Patience and the scribe Fedwren, and then are dropped as fast as they arise. It’s maddening.
“When you cut pieces out of the truth to avoid looking like a fool you end up looking like a moron instead.”
Likewise, our knowledge of the main character is frustratingly limited. Oh, we’ve followed him from when he was but a child, and the story is his, but his exact abilities are so vague as to be near useless to us readers. We know he is skilled with animals, can use the Wit and Skill to some degree, and is very good with poisons. But each of these skill-sets is itself vague in the details, let alone the myriad of other skills mentioned such as staff fighting, using knives, and his general competence. If this were some secondary character in another tale we may give this a pass, they’re simply a plot device, with whatever skills are needed at the moment, like Gandalf, Hoid, or to a lesser extent Hermione. But as this is the main character, we should know a bit more. How much more interesting would the novel be if we knew the skills Fitz had when facing an obstacle. Which in fact leads us to another issue I have with the book.
Nothing really happens. Nothing is memorable. In this book, there are the deaths of two crown princes, a queen, and a slew of raids by an ill-defined foreign power that steal the humanity of villagers for…reasons. Considering it’s only four hundred pages you’d imagine it would be fast paced with that scale of action happening, but nothing is further from the truth. I read it in one sitting, and I still found myself forgetting that some people had died, and who this or that person was.
“All events, no matter how earthshaking or bizarre, are diluted within moments of their occurrence by the continuance of the necessary routines of day-to-day living.”
I could go on about this at some length, talking of how the royal naming conventions are painfully on the knows, each royal having a value to their name which seems to dictate all their actions. We have Prince Chivalry who is loved by all but laid low by his own codes, Prince Regal who sneers and schemes, Prince Verity believes with all his heart that he must defend his people no matter the personal cost, and presiding over all is King Shrewd. This name is the only one that may not fit. Oh he plans, and strategizes, and dithers around a lot as it would imply, but his instant reaction to a petulant Lord or foreign power seems to be ‘send the assassin’. Not the shrewdest political decision you’ll probably agree.
This whole book just feels like the first act of a novel, while having the events of a full series. Some books pull this off, at least the latter half. The Final Empire comes to mind for this. I’m not sure about this one though. It was ok, and I’ll still read the rest of Hobbs work as it’s so unilaterally praised, but I’m unconvinced.
“One can only walk so far from one’s true self before the bond either snaps, or pulls back. I am fortunate. I have been pulled back.”