This book is a little bit cliche. And before you write it off, give it a moment. Lots of books are cliche, and I actually think that in some cases is a good thing. People come to stories with expectations, especially in genre fiction, and those expectations need to either be met by the story or subverted in a way that is tasteful and surprising and refreshing to the reader. In the case of this book, I think they were met well and subverted just a little bit.
I remember reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings growing up. Along with The Chronicles of Narnia, I think it was the only fantasy I ever really got in to. At least, it's the only stuff that I remember. Those were the books that really cemented the genre and became touchstones for everything to come. Now, in recent years Fantasy has changed and grown and evolved much like our culture and ideals has, but elements of it remain the same. Here we have a story about an orphan with great power. Sound familiar? Yes, it is that cliche but it's done well. The characters feel real and I found that as I read more I cared more about them and about what happened. Which is interesting and devious coming from Robin Hobb.
Why you ask? Because I attended a seminar where she was a panelist talking about how you can't be kind to the characters in your story, about how their actions have to have consequences that are permanent and real. So as I read this book, I keep thinking what horrible things are you going to do to these characters that I'm starting to like?
Now it isn't all doom and gloom either. As I've mentioned in another book review post, the ending has to be satisfying (if not happy) and this one is satisfying. It leaves a lot open too. Threads are closed and others are opened, and that's great because that's how you build an epic story like this. Considering that this is the start of a trilogy, it did what it was supposed to do: introduce characters, conflict, and magic, set up the larger story arc while also having a self-contained arc.
One thing I do want to touch on a little bit here is the magic system. Every fantasy (well, maybe not every, but you get my meaning) has to have some sort of magic system. There are theories on magic systems and how to construct them and the different uses for them, but I don't want to go into that here. Suffice it to say that on a spectrum from strict, rules-based magic to loosey-goosey do-what-you-want magic, it's a fairly loose system.
And you almost never see it used.
How can this be? A fantasy story with magic and an orphan who has powers means that the orphan has to go to some sort of school and learn about the magic and harness it and defeat evil. That is what my expectation says going into this story, but that doesn't happen. He goes to a sort of school, but my-oh-my is it not the kind of school you want to go to to learn magic. So how does this work? That was the question that kept poking at me as I read the story. That was the question that still bugged me when I reached the end and, yes, magic came into the picture in a satisfying way, but nowhere near what I was expecting.
It works because the author was still fulfilling all of the promises made to me at the start of the book.
I think that covers a lot of things in fiction. Regardless of genre, when you open a book and start reading, the author is making promises to you, that certain things will be addressed in the book, about the tone, about the pacing, and for the most part the reader will continue to read and enjoy that book as long as those promises are being fulfilled.
So when I read a book titled The Assassin's Apprentice, and I get a story about an orphan that grows up in the royal house and become apprentice to an assassin, and the climax involved him being an assassin, I feel like I've just read a satisfying book. Was I blown away by it? Honestly, no. But I did quite like it and was perfectly happy with it and would recommend it to anyone interested in epic fantasy. I'm probably not going to continue the series, in all honesty, just because there are so many other books out there that I want to read and my time is limited. But the resolution was enough for me to be able to confidently put down the book and have no regret over the time spent reading it.
If you like fantasy and are looking for another series/trilogy to get into, I would give it a shot.