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Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

By Brian Prisco | Books | May 19, 2009 |

By Brian Prisco | Books | May 19, 2009 |

Amazon offered five fantasy novels for free on the Kindle, most of which were in a series. Among them were two that were on my list, the first Temeraire novel — which as you well know I adored enough to include two in the Cannonball — and the second being the first in the Farseer trilogy. Usually, they don’t give away free shit unless they’re convinced you’ll buy more, so it boded well. Also, I think it was a brilliant marketing ploy. If you read the first few chapters — as Amazon allows you to do for free with most of the Kindle books — you might not bother to continue. But if you stick with this series, it becomes pretty incredibly solid by the close.

My brother and I share booklists on the Kindle, so most of the time when I just up and pop something there to read, I usually have to give him a little explanation on what I picked. And thus I realized that fantasy tends to be broken down in three facets: magic, monsters, and maturity. Is there magic, who can do it, and how is it flavored? Are there monsters, are they among the folks, and are they the bad guys? And how much blood and swearing exists? You can explain almost all series this way.

The Wheel of Time: magic — channeling, some can do it some can’t; monsters — Trollocs/Halfmen which are a little Lord of the Ring-a-dingy, but also Ogiers who are good guys; and lots of blood and guts, but no bad words.

Song of Ice and Fire: magic — not really; monsters — dragons, but only late in the game; and tons of blood and swearing and killing.

Codex Alera: magic — like Avatar, almost everyone controls elemental-based furies; monsters — tons of weird creatures both bad and good; and lots of blood but more or less PG on the swearing.

And so on. Assassin’s Apprentice basically is a yes, no, no, series. The magic comes in the form of Skilling — which is more like psychic powers and akin to channeling than anything else. The monsters aren’t the critter kind, but instead come in the form of soulless humans called The Forged, who are like living zombies without compassion or basic human affinity. And there are fights, but relatively tame on the violence for now. Which is funny, because with a title like Assassin, you’d think there’d be people dying all up in the place.

Instead, it falls into the same category as the Kingkiller trilogy, as in it’s another one of those recounting all your glories tales, only less sharply written. And just like that, I feel like the flashback is a crutch that weakens the effect of the story. Take it out, and it’d be much better.

Essentially, it tells the story of a prince’s bastard named Fitz, who trains to become an assassin. I’m completely simplifying this, and practically dashing ahead 2/3 of the book. And that’s part of the problem. It’s become another orphan training for greatness, who secretly will end up being one of the most powerful (wizard, barbarian, godlings) in creation. Hobb feels like she’s holding back a little, which is frustrating, because she’s a strong enough writer that if she slacked a little on the reins, she’d be tearing ass all over the place. It lingers when it should be forceful. And having read so much fantasy over the course of the Cannonball, I think I wouldn’t notice the weakness if it weren’t up against such stronger series.

But the thing is, if you like fantasy, you’ll like Hobb. And I’ll definitely read the other two in the series. It won’t be as fervent a desire as some of the others, but I’ll get around to capping off the series.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. You can read more about it over on Prisco’s blog.

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