Friday, 5 October 2012

Assassin's Apprentice - Robin Hobb

Of the large number of books on our bookshelves that I have yet to read, 12 carry the name of Robin Hobb.  Loved by my husband, auntie, cousin and many others, I have been meaning to try out one of her books for some time.  And now, that count has just gone down to 11.

Assassin's Apprentice is the first book in The Farseer Trilogy and is based in the Six Duchies, a kingdom ruled by the Farseer family.  It follows the life of Fitz, a royal bastard who struggles to fit in with either royal or normal folk and has to find his own path.

The story is told in first person, but in a reflective way such that the older Fitz can analyse the decisions he made in younger days.Each chapter begins with a section of the history of the Duchies, which our storyteller has been tasked with writing.  This provides more insights into the political situation surrounding the land, and some of its key characters.

I confess, it took me a little while to get into this.  Another book to fall victim to me reading while tired.  I also struggled a bit with some of the plotlines at first.  The brutality in parts surprised me, but became one of the things I really appreciated.  Every aspect in the story is raw.  What you see is what you get.  And the telling in first person allows this to be delivered beautifully and honestly.

When my husband suggested this book, I had no idea what to expect.  The fantasy genre covers such a wide range that it can be hard to tell how 'overt' the fantasy aspects will be.  In this case, the magic is built in slowly.  You are introduced to the world and its characters long before magic becomes apparent, and through the acceptance of a young boy it's almost easy to miss it when it first comes in.

The important distinction, in my opinion, is that the world does not purely exist for the forms of magic it holds.  Because the Skill is taught to so few the every day life of most people goes on without really noticing it.  This means that when magic does come to the forefront its place has been earned.  The purpose for using it can clearly be seen.  Which seems to me to be the mark of a very well written book.  One that uses fantasy elements to enhance good writing, rather than to mask poor writing.

It took me a while, but I did fall in love with the characters.  Not in my usual way of connecting with one or two more than others, but in a way that made me appreciate all their individual characteristics and how well the personalities played off each other.  It was also interesting how Fitz's perception of different people changed as he got older and wiser, and as familiar faces appeared and disappeared in his life.

For the first book in a trilogy, the ending is very satisfying.  Enough ends gets tied up that it justifies being a story in its own right, rather than just 'part 1'.  Which means I don't need to instantly plough on to the next one, and so can reflect more on what I've read.  At the same time, though, there are enough open threads and tantalising glimpses that mean I can't see it being long before I return to the world of the Six Duchies.