Title: Assassin's Apprentice (Farseer Trilogy #1)
Author: Robin Hobb
Publisher: Voyager, 1996
Yet even though I'd read the first three, I was aware that she'd written not only a second, but was busy with a third trilogy all featuring my dearly beloved Fitz and his friends Nighteyes the wolf and the enigmatic Fool. I simply had to revisit the setting, which meant I wanted to dip into the first trilogy again. Boy oh boy, I felt like I was stepping into that world with fresh eyes, and it was just as an emotive journey as it was before.
In a nutshell (and without giving too much away) this is a story about a young boy who's the bastard son of a king-in-waiting, who is trained to be a royal assassin, to do the king's "quiet work". Of course the events that transpire and the characters one encounters along the way are far more varied and unexpected. This is one of those books where you put your life on hold and live Fitz's life with him as he grows up, navigates the complexities of life at court, which includes a murderous uncle who's eyeing the throne though he's not quite next in line in the succession. To make matters even more pressing, their kingdom is under assault by seaborne raiders – the Outislanders. Fitz never knows a moment of true peace.
Fitz is not only an assassin, but he's also gifted (or cursed, depending on how you look at it) with two forms of magic – the Skill (which allows him to influence men's minds and communicate telepathically) and the Wit (which allows him to communicate and bond with an animal). The former is a magic practised mainly by the reining Farseers and the other is a reviled art that, if he's discovered to be in possession of it, will mean his death.
What makes this world for me is the how Hobb populates it with three-dimensional, authentic (and often quirky) characters whose whose motivations often place them at odds with each other. How the hell she even manages to keep all their timelines straight is absolutely stupefying, because every small clue, *every* detail she writes in, is often vital to the rest of the tale.
Unforgettable characters such as Chade, King Shrewd's older half-brother and master assassin; Burrich the stablemaster, who raises Fitz; Molly Chandler, the secret love of Fitz's heart; the Fool; Lady Patience... I fell in love with all of them, all over again, and getting to know them again made them feel like old, favourite friends.
For those looking for an insta-epic with clearly defined plot and HEA, this might not be the book for you. The storyline feels like real life – messy, inconvenient. Fitz makes many decisions that he'll later regret. There are times when you will want to yell at him to either do or do not ... Oh, and the consequences... Every action has its consequences, and Hobb *doesn't* pull her punches.
The world building is detailed, highly textured and yet again, you feel as if you're *in* the story as opposed to skimming through. I am reminded quite solidly, that this is one of those books that I will recommend to those wishing to get into fantasy for the first time, and that Robin Hobb is a master wordsmith who is partially responsible for having inspired me to tread this path of fantasy author myself. Though I'd read this book before, I feel I gained a lot more detail (and a greater sense of awe at Hobb's skill) the second time round. Who knows, in a decade or so, I'll do it all again.