I say trilogy, but fans of Robin Hobb would be quick to point out that it is actually the first in a series of trilogies and mini-series that all tie together to form the long-running saga (still currently underway) set in the Realm of the Elderlings. I just want to focus on the first three novels, the Farseer Trilogy, or Assasin’s books: Assassin’s Apprentice; Royal Assassin; Assassin’s Quest.
These novels follow the mis-adventures of the illegitimate royal child FitzChivalry Farseer (Fitz) as he joins the royal court as a stable boy and finds himself bound to the court assassin as the eponymous apprentice of the first book. So far, so very classic fantasy novel…
This series really is stand-out superb. The writing is smooth and immersive and the worldcrafting is so precise that you emerge from each book surprised that you haven’t actually been there, eavesdropping in a stable, or watching ships round the cliffs.
The plot is intriguing and, as previously mentioned, continues on past these initial books into what becomes a fantasy history of this realm spanning generations, but even just within each individual novel there is enough tension and action to keep you on the edge of your seat.
The cast of side characters is wonderful: Molly, Burrich, Chade, Nighteyes, Chivalry, Kettricken, the Fool; we care about each and every one of them and are desperate to see them all succeed against the odds, which are (of course) stacked against them.
The antagonists range from the usual unpleasant adult teachers/guardians, to dispassionate political enemies; deceitful thought-to-be-allies and the downright terrifying Red Ship Raiders (when they take your loved ones you hope they simply kill them).
There are sword/fistfights and sourcery; two kinds of magic in fact, but I don’t want to stray too far into spoiler territory here! There is betrayal, deceit, loyalty and sacrifice. Everything that you would expect from a high fantasy series.
What there is not, is a ‘heroic’ main protagonist, in the classic sense. Fitz is a nightmare! Don’t get me wrong, he is well-written. But we see the story from his narrative point of view, and he is criminally obtuse, full of self-pity and obsessed with his hardships (which are many, I will give him that!). As a reader you find yourself screaming at him as he lurches from one poor decision to another, based on completely and obviously erroneous assumptions that he thoroughly believes are reasonable and sound judgements. He makes mistakes, he misses things, he annoys and upsets people (me included!). Often his successes are through happy accident, luck, or the intervention of one of his many staunch and excellent allies.
What does this mean for the reader? That he is HUMAN. He is believable. He embodies every bad decision that we made when we were younger and didn’t know better, or just didn’t realise the truth that was right in front of us. Whilst extremely irritating, Fitz is also incredibly endearing because he wants to do the right thing and he never stops trying, no matter how impossible the situation, how difficult the task. He is so naïve that his mistakes are often based in just completely not understanding how the world works, and this gives him an innocence or purity. He idolises his loved ones, and is crushed when they too prove themselves human and flawed. He beats himself up mercilessly for every misstep because he constantly strives to do better. He is not a perfect hero, but he achieves the heroic despite himself.
So do I find the main character of the Assassin books frustrating? Very.
Would I recommend you read the books anyway? Wholeheartedly.
“If all I had ever done was to be born and discovered, I would have left a mark across all the land for all time. I grew up fatherless and motherless in a court where all recognized me as a catalyst. And a catalyst I become.”
― Robin Hobb,
For more from or about this author, here is her website link: http://www.robinhobb.com/