This isn’t a review per-se; rather, I aim here to briefly elaborate on why, unfortunately, Assassin’s Apprentice was a book I can’t finish right now. I’m sad to say this, as a good friend suggested it, but it would go against reading being fun to protract the lack of enjoyment I experienced with this book.
Assassin’s Apprentice is certainly a “high fantasy” of the kind that I’d, reading it in 2016, thought went out of date in the 1940s. There’s shades of Tolkien in Assassin’s Apprentice which are impossible to shake; considering Lord of the Rings is a key reason why I am almost weighted against fantasy as a genre, a book harking back to Tolkein is a warning sign unlike any other.
The prose in Assassin’s Apprentice is borderline unreadable. I understand the author’s intent to convey a pretty generic, swords-and-shields pseudo-medieval setting, the painfully twee and intentionally archaic prose made AA a chore to read. Adding another layer of parsing for my brain to need to carry out made reading this book slow and laborious and I don’t think it was entirely necessary.
Compounding my literary wonderment were the cast of cardboard and ultimately uninteresting characters. Why do we care about Fitz, the orphan? The only feature he seems to have in the part of the book I read is his supposed noble lineage. His naivety seems to know no bounds and Fitz doesn’t seem particularly perceptive. Considering the nobility are portrayed essentially as pantomime snobs it’s hard to allow the connection to them form as a point of endearment for Fitz.
Nothing happens, either – this is the worst of Tolkeinesque writing for me. This book reads like a diary chronicling Fitz’s mundane and ultimately generic castle life as a small child. Anything remotely interesting, such as the Wit (sense of magic) is glossed over – indeed, Fitz is barred from keeping pets. Rather, the prose focuses on every mundane aspect of castle minutiae and leaves the potentially-interesting magical abilities unexplored.
Large chunks of exposition form slabs of world building, which isn’t presented in what I’d consider a digestible form; I feel the need to take an A-level in the lore before I can begin to understand what’s going on (this is similar to the issue I had with Ancillary Justice). There’s chapters of castle minutiae. He gets the attention of the King, for some reason, and the course of events seems so predictable and well-trodden I found myself wondering: “why am I bothering if I can see exactly where it’s going?”
Characters, too, are uninteresting and unengaging – the protagonist, Fitz, is a stupid boy whose wellbeing and story I don’t care about. If his father, Chivalry, hadn’t been unchivalrous with his mother, why would we, the reader, care about his story? His personality is amoebic, and the reader is expected to be interested because of his heritage alone. It’s not enough to carry the intrigue required for me to want to continue with the story. Burrich, Fitz’s mentor, is an archetypal “drunken, grizzly surrogate father figure who’s out of his depth”. The various members of nobility are detached and aloof from any of the events occurring in the world.
Overall, I found Assassin’s Apprentice a disappointing trudge more than an engaging read. Sure, I am predisposed against fantasy as a general rule (which I will explain in a future post), but I did read The Gospel of Loki semi-recently and found it quite entertaining. But Robin Hobb’s twee prose was irritating, her characters boring, not endearing and uninteresting and the world a plain mix of trite “vanilla” fantasy tropes. I did want to enjoy this book, mainly as a good friend had suggested it, despite how derivative it was turning out to be. However, the characters were not strong enough to warrant continuing this chore of a read. The prose became a chore to read, the characters a chore to empathise with and, when a book becomes a chore to read, it’s time, unfortunately, to put it down.
Luckily, I grabbed it when it was free.
Buy Assassin’s Apprentice on Amazon UK, if you need help sleeping.