Assassin’s Apprentice – Robin Hobb

Rating: 2.5/5

I was itching for a classic fantasy read so it only seemed natural to pick up one of the most classic books in the genre – Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb. She gets a lot of love on /r/books so I figured it was as good a choice as any, but it turned out to be just meh for me.

What I liked:

  • Interesting world potential

What I didn’t like (and oh how much there is):

  • I read this on Kindle so I had a firm grasp of my progress throughout the book, and nothing happened until literally the second half. The first half was all setup, and not even particularly interesting setup at that – Fitz describing how he came to the royal court, the cast of characters he meets and learns from, his and Burrich’s relationship…I finished this book less than a week ago and already can’t remember the first half because it was so uneventful and boring.
  • Speaking of boring, the book reads so flat and staid because everything sounds like Fitz describing events instead of experiencing them. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is in the prose itself that gives this impression – many books are narrative-heavy yet are still exciting and interesting, but this one is like reading someone’s journal instead of living his life through him (which is what I think good books should be like)
  • Fitz himself is a pretty boring main character. He’s vaguely likeable in the sense that there’s nothing objectionable about him, but that’s exactly what makes him rather a snoozefest. The good people like him while the bad people don’t, he’s noble and good and fairly intelligent – all generally good things without anything notable.
  • The names. I know that’s meant to actually be one of the unique things about the world – the naming of royalty after virtues – but having characters with names like ‘Shrewd’ and ‘Chivalry’ and ‘Regal’ and ‘Verity’ and ‘Bounty’ and ‘Desire’ starts feeling contrived and worthy of all the eye rolls reeeeal quick.
  • The book is called Assassin’s Apprentice, yet most of the book has nothing to do with actual assassinations or his education. Instead, Chade’s method for cultivating assassination skills in a mentee mostly includes lessons like “Steal this hairbrush from this irritating noble’s dresser” and “Retrieve this mysterious packet from the king’s evil son’s nightstand.” Do we readers ever learn what the mysterious packet contains? What it might be used for? Why it matters that Fitz retrieves it? We do not. For a book with such a promising premise, shockingly little of it has to do with what the title implies.
  • Continuing on this point, any assassinations Fitz does undertake are only mentioned it passing in one sentence. Literally, one sentence: “That summer, over three months, I killed seventeen times for the King.” It is infuriating. This sentence occurred at 71% through the book and is almost the only reference to Fitz’s killings up until this point.
  • The ending didn’t make much sense to me. I didn’t bother to reread the parts that confused me, and ultimately it left a sense of almost deus ex machina, where somehow, miraculously, everything gets resolved and patched up nicely despite the seemingly horrific situation prior.

Overall, a very underwhelming story. Clearly there was something good about it for me to finish the book, but for the life of me I can’t puzzle out what it is considering all the flaws it had. Someone told me that the second and third books in the series are much better, but I won’t be picking those up.

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