I read Assassin’s Apprentice immediately after I finally gave up on Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series, so perhaps my delight in finding Robin Hobb has something to do with the bad taste in my brain left by Goodkind’s tripe. So it’s getting five stars, but I’m quite sure that I would have given it five stars anyway. As a fantasy book, it’s brilliant.
In some ways, it follows a lot of typical tropes. Young boy with royal blood and troublesome parentage forced to find his way in an unfamiliar world, finds he possesses rare talents, is taught by a mentor/father-figure and proves himself in the end. Sort of. Court intrigues, anonymous enemies threatening the kingdom, mysteriously knowledgeable lunatic to push the plot along occasionally. Sort of.
Even the whole first-person autobiographical style isn’t particularly original. So why the hell did I enjoy it so much?
Firstly, Hobb executes all of those usual patterns perfectly. The hero’s bastardy, his apprenticeship, the court intrigue â€“ none of it is presented clumsily. Unlike so many authors using these devices, you get the strong impression that if you quizzed her on any of the characters or their situations, she would be able to tell you a million things, all internally consistent and interesting, that will never make it into the story.
Secondly, Hobb doesn’t rush. She deftly hints at things to come without waving them around as the sole thing to keep you interested. There’s no, “Ooh! Elderlings! Bet you want to know more about that shit, eh?!” Just little mentions, usually around times you’re too interested in what’s going on to wonder too much about what will be revealed later.
Finally, the characters are nice and flawed. Not token flaws, like Raymond E Feist’s “Jimmy’s amazing, but on the other hand he thinks he’s slightly better than amazing”. The characters are proper fucked up, for the most part.
I started reading fantasy again because I wanted something to fill the gap left by coming to the end of the published Song of Ice and Fire books. I forced myself through Terry Goodkind’s bollocks just to satisfy the craving. But Assassin’s Apprentice has sent me straight into the second book of the series, with A Dance with Dragons lying half-finished by my bed.