Title: Assassin's Apprentice (The Farseer Trilogy #1)
Author: Robin Hobb
What starts with the almost standard trope of the boy hero with royal parentage, is quickly subverted. Boy or Fitz as he is later known begins life as the unwanted, unexpected son of king-in-waiting Chivalry, and grows up in the stables then is later apprenticed to the assassin Chade.
He was born with the Wit, the ability to touch the minds of other living things, but if anyone were to discover this ability, he would certainly be put to death.
The Six Duchies face an external threat from the Viking-like Red Ship Raiders, who devastate coastal settlements and leave survivors "forged" (magically violated and devoid of all empathy). Yet from the inside, there is strife. King Shrewd's son from his second marriage, Regal, has pretensions to the throne, and bears Fitz little love.
Hobb has populated this saga with a rich cast of fascinating, diverse characters. Though the story is slow paced it is richly textured and it is all too easy to lose on self in the world she has created. I suspect this novel would have been released under the YA banner had it been written now, but Fitz comes to readers with a surprisingly mature voice.
He really has a difficult time and his personality is such that readers can see that he has so much to offer others if only he had the opportunity to share his love. Due to circumstances he is a lonely child, however, and makes do with the scraps he is offered. He experiences much loss and cruelty yet he remains steadfast to his king. This is the redeeming aspect of a character some might find cause to despise because of his vocation.
Hobb has it all in her writing: solid world building, ancient mystery, unforgettable characters, high adventure and enough courtly intrigue to give old GRRM a run for his money. I am looking forward to reading the rest in this series again. At least this time half the books won't be missing courtesy of our sorry library system.