Book Review: The Farseer – Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

Finally, she held up one that was like a silver bit of net with a blue stone caught in it. She made a face over it, then nodded reluctantly. “That man has taste. Whatever else he lacks, he has taste.” She held it up to my ear again, and with absolutely no warning, thrust the pin of it through my earlobe.

I yelped and clapped a hand over my ear, but she slapped it away. “Don’t be such a baby. It only stings for a minute.” There was a sort of clasp that held it behind, and she ruthlessly bent my ear in her fingers to fasten it. “There. That suits him, don’t you think, Lacey?”

“Quite.” Lacey agreed over her eternal tatting.

Patience dismissed me with a gesture. As I rose to go she said, “Remember this, Fitz. Whether you can Skill or not, whether you wear his name or not, you are Chivalry’s son. See that you behave with honor. Now go and get some sleep.”

Robin Hobb: The Farseer: Assassin’s Apprentice

Surprisingly, I’ve found Robin Hobb’s The Farseer: Assassin’s Apprentice better than I ever expected. If you want a detailed explanation as to why, read the last 2 paragraphs of my entry. Otherwise, read on. The book was recommended to me by a dear friend, since the main character shares part of my last name: Fitz. It focuses on a bastard boy of the prince in line to be King, who is trained as an assassin because his lineage will enable him to travel anywhere, while his royal status (or lack thereof) means he is disposable.

First off, I love the mythology of naming of things that Robin Hobb puts into his Book. While its a bit odd to get used to at first, it sets up the many layers that characters take on as they fill out their nominal destinies. Second, as a person who has studied psychology, I find the Forging fascinating. As soon as the ultimatum came out, I knew it would be creative. I don’t want to give anything away to those who haven’t read it, but I can’t help but sit an ponder what happened exactly to the people forged by the raiders.

Having said that, there’s one thing I’m not a fan of: while I know it really works to build up the characters, and sets up the story-line through the rest of the series, Assassin’s Apprentice has not only a really slow start, but also several slow build ups in the rest of the book. In many ways, I don’t care about the central character’s build up as much as the other circumstances in the book that aren’t actually resolved, or the history of more interesting characters, like Fool. As I haven’t finished the series yet, I can only hope that the resolution eventually comes, but for the time being, I have to be satisfied with the action held within. This action didn’t let me down. And while there were a few instances where I had to reread certain passages to understand just what Robin Hobb was trying to write, (sometimes purposely elusive while other times just confusing) there were some places where I guessed the secret well in advance. What this reveals to me is that Robin Hobb doesn’t take the reader for granted, and I really appreciate that. Nothing spoils writing for me like laying everything out completely for the reader or trying to remind them of things already mentioned. Robin Hobb describes everything in what seems like just enough words, never going so far as to bore the reader with description, but enough to indulge my desire to know what new countries, experiences and people are like.

A reader might wonder why I selected the above passage to talk about the book, rather than the quote on the opening page, sampling the story line for anyone interested. I think its because I’ve been reading Deuteronomy in my quest to read the Bible cover to cover, one small portion at a time. Its taken me a year and a half to get to this point. But a while ago, I remember reading in Exodus 21: 2-6 that if a Hebrew slave wanted to stay with his master because he loved him, he would have his ear pierced, and was his for life. While this passage didn’t exactly mimic the Bible, its imagery cannot escape me, especially if you continue to read on to the end. I don’t want to give anything away, but that such love exhibits such pain, it always amazes me. And it reminds me, that whether or not I acknowledge it, whether I behave accordingly or not, I belong to God. His son was pierced for me, I share in that, and I am His Woman.

Lastly I would say, if you’re a fan of fantasy and intrigue, I would definitely recommend this book to you. I’d love to see how it continues.

I’m going to finish this review with a confession, stating first and foremost, I am not a fantasy person. For all that I read, and have read, from Harry Potter to Lord of the Rings to the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, I have never actively sought after fantasy books for my reading pleasure. Usually, if I’ve read any, its because a friend who read at least as much read them recommended them to me, or I was forced to read it in school. In Grade 5 I remember hating Lewis as a book study, though I only have guesses now as to why. In grade 6 I remember loving the Hobbit, but I suspect it was my teacher who made it more engaging to my tastes. I’m inclined to believe it was the style of writing that either appealed or didn’t appeal to me. In Grades 7 & 8, my school friend Ellen Begin-Ferguson, who read as voraciously as I did, got me to read several different authors, including some fantasy. I don’t remember loving them as much as she did, but I don’t remember hating them either. Ironically, I can’t even remember the authors or the titles, but I remember more than 1 sun in them. In high school I preferred Shakespeare and historical fiction, some science fiction, even horror. In university my architecture degrees left me little room for reading for pleasure, and aside from my children’s lit class, I read only for school, and these consisted of the philosophers like Plato, Freud, or the great texts like the Great Gatsby, or All Quiet on the Western Front. With the heavy weight of these books, I usually fell for Austen or any of the Bronte girls in my lengthy commute to and from work. It was in university I picked up Lord of the Rings on the suggestion of my friend Rachel Liu, and the Harry Potter books based on my mom, a librarian in a K-6 school at the time. Both of these I loved, as you can judge by the fact that I devoured Rowling’s first 4 books over the long weekend in August one summer, and that I finished Tolkien’s masterpiece in 2 months of work commuting. I also fell in love with the Mists of Avalon, thought I’m not sure why exactly I decided to pick it up.

I think my prejudice towards fantasy as a genre stems from the idea that I’ve found most people who read them are leaning towards a drastic sense of escape. These books so often speak of the sense of isolation an orphan feels, and the idea that a mythology is discovered to reveal that the main character in fact does have a purpose for their lives. I’ve always held the prejudice that those involved in reading fantasy wanted to be a part of a world that had nothing to do with what went on around them because for some reason, they weren’t happy. Maybe it was a family breaking apart, maybe it was job dissatisfaction, maybe it was simply people didn’t treat others properly. I resisted this, somehow believing that my life was not so bad that I needed to escape to a world that made no sense in the context of my own. I walked away from the genre almost as a whole in my mind, preferring horror, British romances, and classic literature to anything fantastic. And the only thing I have to say at this point, is that I am, or was, completely wrong. It now seems a whole lot like a superiority complex. Any time people read (or create), it is either to find out about or escape the world and themselves. Good literature doesn’t reside in any particular genre. I have my favorites and the ones I loathe, but I will never again deny the ability of a genre of work to reveal a thought or opinion or idea about the world we have. While it may not be my favorite genre of all time, I will no longer deny that I do not read it (as you can see from the list of books that I read above), and I will no longer deny good fantasy, the respect it deserves.

One Reply to “Book Review: The Farseer – Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb”

  1. I'm glad you enjoyed the book. You are quite skilled at the art of the review. I'm glad you've opened your mind to my favorite genre. Maybe I'll have to send more your way. The Farseer book you are now borrowing is probably my favorite in the series. Can't wait to read your review of that…

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