by Patrick Clapp
When the mood strikes me, and I feel the siren’s call of the novel, I need look no further than my own bookshelves, as they are considerable in depth if not in breadth. I know what I enjoy, and I have a considerable amount of it to call my own. At any given time, there are a number of books on my shelf that I have yet to read, for one reason or another. Sometimes, the proper mood is not upon me, and sometimes there are books which must be read first.
A short while ago, perhaps after moving from a gripping Modesitt tale to a refreshingly light-weight Salvatore novel, I judged myself willing to take a particular plunge, the likes of which I think everyone should take…once in a while. That book is several steps down the path I would like to show you here. At the trailhead, though, is the talented Robin Hobb, and her first book.
About eight years ago I took a wild, dangerous gamble, and spent money on a new author. As it turned out, I chose wisely as Robin Hobb has never ceased to give me interesting, albeit demanding books ever since. The book, that fateful March day, was called The Assassin’s Apprentice, and I did not so much tear through it, as it (and she) tore through me.
Bowker’s Books in Print summarizes the Assassin’s Apprentice with the following:
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 sectetly 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.
All well and good, and it sounds like a traditional romp through a fantasy realm frought with danger and pleasant struggles versus evil with the expected happy ending for all involved (except the villains).
Robin Hobb is really mean.
I mean…really mean. As in Melanie Rawn mean, or Dave Duncan, West of January mean.
That said, I am continually amazed at how much I want to read about her characters. It is as if she and I are sitting in a room with her protagonist, and she holds out a nice ripe peach for him to eat. Then she squeezes the hell out of it until the good bits go flying all over the place. She then tosses him a rotten apple, turns to me, and says, “Want to see more? I have a whole bag of tricks right here beside me.” And, I say yes. The material is that engaging.
The book is worthy of your time. I have faithfully purchased (when it was not purchased for me) all of her works since. I have even read most of them. Although, I admit that I approach her novels now with extreme caution, like a predator slowly inching up to what he believes is wounded prey. There is a three day gap in my journal while I was in Japan, notable only because it occurred at a time where I was quite vigilant in my writing. The sole cause of the gap was Robin Hobb and my successful completion of one of her sequels to The Assassin’s Apprentice.
The Assassin’s Apprentice is 464 pages, published by Bantam Books (now absorbed by Random House I believe). It was released in 1996. ISBN: 0-553-57339-X, LCCN: 94-028942,
Dewey #: 813/.54 (in case you would rather find it in your local library). Of course, you can also snag it through Amazon. It is followed by Royal Assassin and Assassin’s Quest (which caused the journal gap). After writing a series of other books, set in the same world but in a different locale, Robin returned to the Farseers to write Fool’s Errand, Golden Fool, and Fool’s Fate.