Assassin’s Apprentice

By Robin Hobb


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Started: August 2, 2010

First Reading


Fitz is the bastard son of the prince who was to become king until his youthful indiscretion was discovered. The prince abdicates, leaving Fitz alone in Buckkeep, the seat of power for the Six Duchies.  His life is uneventful until he is visited late one night by the king’s assassin who tells him that it’s long been a tradition for the bastard sons of the royal family to turn to the assassin’s trade, and he is to learn the art of killing and magic as the old king suddenly takes an interest in his upbringing.

In a Nutshell:

That setup sounds far more interesting than it actually is. If I hadn’t already tried to slog my way through Twilight then I would have thought it impossible to make a piece of genre fiction so singularly dull and uninteresting.

The problem is with Fitz, the royal bastard who is supposed to be the protagonist. Things happen to Fitz but he has no agency in any of his adventures. The book is just one chapter after another where people and circumstances pile onto our brave hero and rather than doing something about it he just sits and takes it. It’s like Hobb set out to make the heroic fantasy genre equivalent of a passion play where we see the protagonist beaten down over and over.

He’s raised by a two dimensional caricature of a guardian who makes the Dursleys from the Harry Potter universe look positively competent in comparison. He’s subjected to mind games by the king and the assassin training him for no other reason than to test his loyalty in the sort of test that would make frat guys hazing one of their pledges stand back and say that maybe things have gone a little too far. He’s supposed to learn magic and he’s supposed to have a natural affinity for it, but his teacher naturally hates him and wants him to fail or be killed since that’s the natural disposition of everyone in this book.

This book came highly recommended by Amazon readers so I decided to go back and see what all the five star reviewers saw in the book that I didn’t. In aggregate those gushing reviews agreed that the book was slow and that nothing much of anything actually happened, but that the excellent characterization more than made up for it. Some even went so far as to compare it to high literature.

Let me clear up this accusation of good characterization right now for anyone who is considering buying this book. There are three types of characters in this book:

  1. The protagonist who is a doormat.
  2. Everyone else, who treats the protagonist like a doormat.
  3. The obligatory love interest who throws herself at the protagonist despite him having absolutely no redeeming qualities and being oblivious to her advances.

The only “characterization” present in those cardboard cutouts I listed above is the motivation for the people who treat the brave Fitz like a doormat. Some of them do it because they love him while others do it because they hate him. That’s it. That’s not great characterization. That’s not high literature masquerading as genre fiction. That’s the plot of a thousand unpublished fantasy novels written by angsty teenagers who feel as though the world is out to get them and doesn’t understand how precious they are and express their emotions through their literary Mary Sue.

I can’t in good conscience recommend this book. It comes highly recommended by reviews on Amazon, but I can’t understand why without bringing roboreviewers into the equation. I tried my best to make it through Assassin’s Apprentice, but this is one of the rare books that I eventually put down in disgust. Steer clear, for here there don’t be dragons, or anything else interesting or redeeming for that matter.