Robin Hobb
Assassin's Apprentice (Volume 1 of The Farseer)
Bantam Spectra 1995

When Fitz comes to Buckkeep, the royal castle of the Six Duchies, he is but a young boy. But he has already changed the future of the kingdom. Fitz is prince Chivalry's bastard, son of the man who was King-in-waiting but abdicated when the news about Fitz reached him. Together with his wife, Lady Patience, Chivalry moves to a keep in the countryside, far away from the intrigues at the palace - and his son. Fitz is instead raised by Burrich the stable master, and on the command of king Shrewd secretly educated to become an assassin.

When the sea raiders from the Outislands become a serious threat to the Six Duchies, no longer trying to reach any other goals than to kill and destroy and do even worse things, every weapon in the hands of the king becomes important. And Fitz, an assassin, scribe and stableman in whose blood the magic Skill runs and who, unknown to almost everyone, also can communicate with animals, is one of his most important tools.

This is the story of the life of Fitz, who as an old man tells it himself. And it is really a story to tell. It took a dozen pages or so, but after that I was spellbound. Evil palace intrigues, cliffhangers on almost every page, and love oh so sweet. The story has got all the ingedients you expect from a high fantasy masterpiece. But if the story wasn't so excellently told by this debuting author, it still wouldn't have the capacity of becoming a modern fantasy classic. This is a golden age for fantasy literature, and "Assassin's Apprentice" is the most promising debute since Katherine Kerr's "Dragonspell".

The Six Duchies is a feudal kingdom in a cold north. Long winters, snow, stormy seas and raiders inspired of the Vikings. Maybe it's beacuse of being a Swede, but to me the descriptions of the cold and the snow make the environment feel realistic. There is also a piece of social realism to the story, about the street kids of Buckkeep Town, about drunks and drug abusers, about the reactions towards a royal bastard who made the honorable prince Chivalry abdicate in favor of his younger brother, Verity.

As for psychological realism, Fitz himself is described in a very believable way. I don't know how it comes female authors often describe men's feelings better than male does, but it's a fact. Strangely enough, it is the women who are hard to understand. But maybe that is because it is all written from Fitz' perspective. That he doesn't understand women is quite obvious. How well Ms Hobb understands animals, I don't know. But she certainly has got a lot of ideas about how different animals think and communicate. Through the forbidden ancient magic of the Wit, young Fitz can bond with a dog and communicate with animals.

The Wit is forbidden. The Skill is nowadays taught exclusively to members of the royal family. They have in common that they are mind magic, mostly used to control or communicate with other beings. There is said to exist other magic as well, but Fitz doesn't know much about it. There is also said to exist an magical race, the Elderlings, who have promised to help the Six Duchies in times of need. But noone knows for sure if they exist or if they are just part of old fairy tales. Not until a much awaited for later book in the series.

Karl Henriksson

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Other books by the same author:
Royal Assassin
Assassin's Quest
Ship of Magic
The Mad Ship

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