Book Review: The Assassin’s Apprentice

I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway, and for that, I am eternally indebted. 🙂

Dear Ashly,

I woke up this morning and finished a book.

As you well-know, I have quite the difficulty in trusting folks, but I didn’t realize until this morning how frustratingly daft I can be in that same capacity with authors.

I began reading The Assassin’s Apprentice mostly so that I could fulfill my book review duties after having won it, and also, I was eager to add another mediocre read to my classroom shelf for the kiddos. One of my greatest joys in reading books that aren’t quite brilliant is that they fill a material teacher need for the great classroom library and simultaneously make me feel selfless, although true selflessness would obviously be more along the lines of giving away books I’ve loved unequivocally, as I’ve loved The Assassin’s Apprentice, and yet I can’t bring myself to put such a pearl before a population that so rarely notes the elegance in carefully-imagined lies.

I don’t think we’ve ever talked about this, but I suspect you can relate: there is a great distinction for me between books that ought to be kept and books that ought to be discarded. The ones that ought to be kept are few and nearly always too long in the coming… for the keeping of a book to be re-read is a great distinction which loses its weight if anything other than the best are retained. It’s much like the keeping of people. Most are worth a conversation or two – an hour or two. A few are worth a short season of life, but rare is the one that merits a lifetime.

With that in mind, I intended to read Hobb’s book, then shelve it at work and let some undeserving student run off with it. I sometimes imagine students coming across books they ought to have returned to me a decade ago. They’re unpacking boxes as they move into their first cheap apartments, and they come across some mass market paperback bearing the harsh mark of “MS. JAMES” driven into permanence by black Sharpie. Of course, they eventually give up on that slim belief that they might eventually return what they borrowed, and they throw the thing away. Which is why they can’t be trusted with the best books.

As I started into The Assassin’s Apprentice, I liked some of the allegorical elements Hobb created – characters named Chivalry, Patience, Regal, etc… I also liked that the main character is the bastard son of a noble, for I know a little of what it is not to live up to the family’s standards. I liked that he could communicate telepathically with beasts, because whose heart doesn’t grow two sizes every time she sees a puppy trotting through town, eyes intent on his boy?

But, somehow, I wasn’t quite sold.

I admit that I’m often lazy as a reader. If I’m not working with Dickens or Dumas, my expectation is that the reading of a book will be “easy, light, smooth, and fast” as Caballo Blanco said running should be. The Assassin’s Apprentice wasn’t exactly difficult reading, but it did require more attention than I’m used to offering an obligation book. Undesired requirements on my brain are often the stumbling block that keeps me from epic fantasy – it’s a little too brain-intensive for me to understand the inner-workings of a brand-new world. Urban Fantasy strikes the consumer chord in my heart, because the players are the most complex element to which I must acclimate myself, rather than having to submit to new laws of physics, geography, systems of government, languages, etc…

So I was slow.

Really slow.

However, as the end of this year loomed over me, it started seeming pretty prudent to actually finish books rather than starting new ones, if only for the sake of this year’s Goodreads Reading Challenge.

So… I decided to have a real sitting with Robin Hobb, rather than just quickly checking in with a page or two.

And I enjoyed it. I still wasn’t sold, because I had a failure of trust, in which I wasn’t quite convinced Robin Hobb is both competent and worthy of my time. I wasn’t sure all of the work my brain was doing would lead to an adequate pay-off. I basically felt intrigued by Hobb’s world and even her person, but I wasn’t ready to entrust myself fully to her – I wasn’t ready to believe she was leading me on a quest worth undertaking, or to trust her with a love of characters she is empowered to kill, or to believe she’ll bring together all of the pieces and tie them off elegantly, as the author is charged with doing.

Then, it happened! Mid-book, Hobb put me in tears.

And it blew my mind because they weren’t PMS tears, or ones that I could restrain, or even wanted to restrain. They were the tears of Dobby taking a knife for Harry Potter – which is saying something. It was a mind-boggling experience because I hadn’t even fully entrusted my heart to Hobb. Thus, I stood a bit baffled that she’d captivated me enough to earn those tears.

That should have been enough, but I honestly fought Hobb right up until the last twenty pages or so, when the elements of a world, its inhabitants, and a murderous quest merged in a way that might only be achieved by a top-rate writer who is also a brilliant and kind human being.

I doubt anyone but you can understand how much I mean by that, because you are the only kindred spirit to whom I can so enthusiastically recommend events, people, and places that are not real. I’ve never met another to whom I might repeatedly marvel about the crafting of that one story without also feeling I’ve worn you down with my tedious awe and revelry in elaborate lies. I’ve never had another friend to whom I might shamelessly confess my tears and the many times I’ve blown-off real-life friends to sit quietly, eating a Trader Joe’s frozen dinner, feeling more fulfilled by an evening spent in the presence of fake people than I ever would have felt with real ones.

I believe you are the perfect reader for this book, even more so than I am, and it is to you that I recommend Hobb and The Assassin’s Apprentice without reservation. Others might accept my recommendation, then falter at the effort and empathy Hobb’s fictional world requires. They would tell me Fitz’s tale is okay, but that they’ve realized they aren’t “readers” and couldn’t quite finish. You, however, are without doubt, the best reader I know, and that is why I believe you will understand.

I hope you will see in Hobb’s writing, a kindred spirit, a Blue Sword, an Ordinary Princess, and a house elf whose love and loyalty don’t blink to intervene when true evil pursues those we love. The Assassin’s Apprentice is the best book I’ve read in years.

Your friend in fiction and reality,


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