I read The Farseer Saga years ago and have since considered it one of my favorite fantasy epics. It’s one (along with The Lord of the Rings and Memory, Sorrow and Thorn) that I often suggest to new fantasy readers. But after more than a decade of reading deeper and further into fantasy literature, I’ve often wondered how well this saga would now appeal to my more mature (I hope) palate. When Tantor Audio recently released The Farseer Saga on audio, I was overjoyed and considered this to be my sign that it’s time to re-visit the six duchies.
When Assassin’s Apprentice arrived in the mail, I yanked out the CD that was currently in my computer, tossed it aside (sorry, Ray Bradbury) and stuck in the first Assassin’s Apprentice disc. My lips trembled as I mouthed the name of the narrator: Paul Boehmer… Never heard of him. Is he good enough to portray Fitz, one of my all-time favorite fantasy characters? And… my stomach twisted… will Fitz be the same boy I came to care so much for so many years ago?
Within minutes I was reabsorbed into the world of FitzChivalry Farseer, that insecure, lonely boy who has so much potential but, due to his illegitimate birth and his peculiar abilities with animals, never gets what he deserves. Fitz was just as I remembered and Paul Boehmer portrayed him (and all the other characters) beautifully. (Except that at one point he incorrectly used the word “prisoner” instead of “poisoner.”)
Robin Hobb’s prose was as nice as I remembered, too — straightforward and simple. It never calls attention to itself (and therefore away from the story). Her characters are engaging and nicely portrayed, though a couple of her villains are overdone. Her animal characters are especially notable and, though I’m not a dog lover, I can’t help but be emotionally connected to Fitz’s canine companions. My second read also gave me a greater appreciation for Hobb’s world-building as I encountered tidbits of information that are relevant to her later works (Tawny Man, Liveship Traders, Rain Wilds).
My only disappointment is that I don’t have the next book, Royal Assassin, in my hands yet. I’m not sure why I’m so eager to torture myself again with this story because I know what’s going to happen. Things don’t always go well for Fitz. His story is heart-wrenching, and I know I’ll be emotionally drained after I finish it. But I’m going to love every minute of it.
I tend to avoid hack-and-slash paperback candies, as well as the ridiculously endless doorstops (Has the Wheel turned yet? What a pity…). This book is neither. Robin Hobb (a pen name, and that was one mildly irritating thing, as she published other works in the ’80’s and so is not a new author as the book jacket suggests) is a wonderful word-smith and storyteller. Her first-person narrative is effective and engaging, although the introductory set-up of the events as a flashback/memoir somewhat undercuts the later dramatic tension (i.e., the teller obviously lived through all the related events).
This is a coming-of-age novel about a castle bastard’s growth into a young assassin. Beyond that, though, there are wonderful details of medieval life, of a medieval town, and of more intimate things — of dogs and the maturing of boys and girls. The build-up to the climax was a little prolonged and at times confusing, and the climax itself was somewhat predictable; nevertheless, one of the last paragraphs is nothing less than sublime. (Of course, it involves a dog.)
Questions do linger ( e.g. what is the process of Forging exactly?), thus, the stage is set for the next book. Will I rush out and read it? I don’t know, but if I don’t, I can still count this as one of the better — and more different — fantasy novels I’ve encountered. Well done.
After reading maybe a few too many YA fantasies recently, it was a breath of fresh air to delve into the world of Fitz, the assassin’s apprentice. It was complex and layered, the way I like my fantasies, and I suppose my reading generally.
Fitz, the bastard son of the crown prince with a peasant woman, is taken from his mother as a six year old boy and dropped into the royal household. Assassin’s Apprentice follows Fitz from his childhood, rejected by many and ignored by almost all others, to about age fifteen, as he grows in magical powers both with “the Wit,” which allows him to share minds with animals, and “the Skill,” a telepathic power. He also gains some more sinister learning, as the king’s assassin, Chade, teaches him the skills of dealing death to those that the king thinks need to be out of the way — for good reasons or bad. And the kingdom is under attack, both from within and without, so Fitz’s peculiar skills will become necessary.
There are mysteries and oddities about this world that are revealed slowly, but didn’t give me the feeling that the author was hiding the ball just to stretch out the suspense. It’s a book that made my brain work a little to follow all of the threads and layers, rather than making me want to skim ahead just to get to the end.
Minus a star for being a little slow in parts and leaving several loose threads at the end. It’s the first in a series, so I assume most of these threads get wrapped up later, but for the most part I think this works reasonably well as a stand-alone novel. Overall I thought it was a really intriguing fantasy, with enough depth and detail to really suck me into this world.
THE FARSEER SAGA — (1995-2013) Words Like Coins is a short e-story published in 2012. The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince is a related prequel novella published in 2013. Publisher: Young Fitz is the bastard son of the noble Prince Chivalry, raised in the shadow of the royal court by his father’s gruff stableman. He is treated like an outcast by all the royalty except the devious King Shrewd, who has him secretly tutored in the arts of the assassin. For in Fitz’s blood runs the magic Skill — and the darker knowledge of a child raised with the stable hounds and rejected by his family. As barbarous raiders ravage the coasts, Fitz is growing to manhood. Soon he will face his first dangerous, soul-shattering mission. And though some regard him as a threat to the throne, he may just be the key to the survival of the kingdom.
LIVESHIP TRADERS –(1998-2000) Bingtown is a hub of exotic trade and home to a merchant nobility famed for its liveships — rare vessels carved from wizardwood, which ripens magically into sentient awareness. The fortunes of one of Bingtown’s oldest families rest on the newly awakened liveship Vivacia. For Althea Vestrit, the ship is her rightful legacy unjustly denied her — a legacy she will risk anything to reclaim. For Althea’s young nephew Wintrow, wrenched from his religious studies and forced to serve aboard ship, Vivacia is a life sentence. But the fate of the Vestrit family — and the ship — may ultimately lie in the hands of an outsider. The ruthless pirate Kennit seeks a way to seize power over all the denizens of the Pirate Isles… and the first step of his plan requires him to capture his own liveship and bend it to his will…
TAWNY MAN — (2001-2003) For fifteen years FitzChivalry Farseer has lived in self-imposed exile, assumed to be dead by almost all who once cared about him. But that is about to change when destiny seeks him once again. Prince Dutiful, the young heir to the Farseer throne, has vanished and FitzChivalry, possessed of magical skills both royal and profane, is the only one who can retrieve him in time for his betrothal ceremony — thus sparing the Six Duchies profound political embarrassment… or worse. But even Fitz does not suspect the web of treachery that awaits him or how his loyalties to his Queen, his partner, and those who share his magic will be tested to The breaking point.
THE RAIN WILDS CHRONICLES — (2010-2012) Publisher: Guided by the great blue dragon Tintaglia, they came from the sea: a Tangle of serpents fighting their way up the Rain Wilds River, the first to make the perilous journey to the cocooning grounds in generations. Many have died along the way. With its acid waters and impenetrable forest, it is a hard place for any to survive. People are changed by the Rain Wilds, subtly or otherwise. One such is Thymara. Born with black claws and other aberrations, she should have been exposed at birth. But her father saved her and her mother has never forgiven him. Like everyone else, Thymara is fascinated by the return of dragons: it is as if they symbolise the return of hope to their war-torn world. Leftrin, captain of the liveship Tarman, also has an interest in the hatching; as does Bingtown newlywed, Alise Finbok, who has made it her life’s work to study all there is to know of dragons. But the creatures which emerge from the cocoons are a travesty of the powerful, shining dragons of old. Stunted and deformed, they cannot fly; some seem witless and bestial. Soon, they become a danger and a burden to the Rain Wilders: something must be done. The dragons claim an ancestral memory of a fabled Elderling city far upriver: perhaps there the dragons will find their true home. But Kelsingra appears on no maps and they cannot get there on their own: a band of dragon keepers, hunters and chroniclers must attend them. To be a dragon keeper is a dangerous job: their charges are vicious and unpredictable, and there are many unknown perils on the journey to a city which may not even exist…
FITZ AND THE FOOL — (2014- ) Publisher: FitzChivalry — royal bastard and former king’s assassin — has left his life of intrigue behind. As far as the rest of the world knows, FitzChivalry Farseer is dead and buried. Masquerading as Tom Badgerlock, Fitz is now married to his childhood sweetheart, Molly, and leading the quiet life of a country squire. Though Fitz is haunted by the disappearance of the Fool, who did so much to shape Fitz into the man he has become, such private hurts are put aside in the business of daily life, at least until the appearance of menacing, pale-skinned strangers casts a sinister shadow over Fitz’s past… and his future. Now, to protect his new life, the former assassin must once again take up his old one….