The Fitzalong #1: Assassin’s Apprentice

Robin Hobb and her The Realm of the Elderlings are names that I hear and see very often as a fantasy reader. If you do anything online with reading, it is almost impossible to avoid these books or to not witness legions of fans speaking enthusiastically about the trauma this series caused them.

Given the immense popularity of these books, even now almost 30 years after the publication of the first book, this author and her books can surely be considered classics. That’s why these feel like must reads to me, but the intimidation is huge! Not only because of the dedication it takes to start this enormous series of 16 to 18 books, but also because of the fear that I won’t love it as much as so many do.

And then Lianne from Literary Diversions announced her The Fitzalong, in which she organises a two-year read-along for the entire Realm of the Elderlings series! [video announcement]

© Literary Diversions

Normally the plan was to read the first book in January or February, but I wasn’t really in a good frame of mind so I postponed it. But now in March I did read it and here are my findings.

Robin Hobb – Assassin’s Apprentice (The Farseer Trilogy #1) ★★★

Genre: Fantasy

The kingdom of the Six Duchies is on the brink of civil war when news breaks. The crown prince has fathered a bastard son and is shamed into abdication! The child’s name is Fitz. Fitz is despised.

Raised in the castle stables, only the company of the king’s fool, the ragged children of the lower city, and his unusual affinity with animals provide Fitz with any comfort.

To be useful to the crown, Fitz is trained as an assassin; and to use the traditional magic of the Farseer family. But his tutor, allied to another political faction, is determined to discredit, even kill him. Fitz must survive: for he may be destined to save the kingdom.

It’s been more than two weeks since I finished this book and my feelings are still very much conflicted.

On the one hand, I really struggled to get through this and this makes me sad.
I wanted so much to fall head over heals for this book, this author, these characters and world, but unfortunately this did not happen.
Perhaps my expectations were way too high, but my prevalent emotion when I (finally) finished the last page was that it was kind of underwhelming and also a bit boring.

“He held it out to me, and I took death upon my open palm. ”

I really struggled with the writing style.
I won’t deny that the writing is lyrical and poetic and has a nice flow to it, but it’s also very long-winded, kind of archaic and dry. I wondered at one point if my issue lay in the fact that English isn’t my native language, but I’ve been reading almost exclusively in English for over a decade, so I can’t really reconcile that.
Whatever it is, the fact is that the writing failed to captivate me and I found it difficult to get immersed. It kept making me drowsy, with it’s lulling and soothing retrospective tone.

“All events, no matter how earthshaking or bizarre, are diluted within moments of their occurrence by the continuance of the necessary routines of day-to-day living.”

It also didn’t help that the story itself is very slow to start.
It’s not really an epic, action-packed tale, but rather a slow, meandering path through Fitz’s early years, which aren’t exactly happy ones.
I can see why people would find this cozy and nostalgic, especially with the medieval atmosphere and the narrator telling his story in remembrance, but the combination of this winding slow-paced story with the wordy, meandering writing style wasn’t really conducive to grip me and bind me to the book.

My huge expectations, however, prevented me from giving up and DNF’ing half-way through.
I desperately want to experience what so many others feel when reading Fitz’s story and discover why this trilogy is so beloved, so I persevered, despite often struggling to pay attention.
The story did pick up a bit towards the end and so much happened in a short time that I suddenly found it too rushed and handled too quickly, especially in contrast to the rest of the book. Instead of arousing my intrigue, it only made me tired. I had been lulled into a sleepy state for so long that the action at the end was just too exhausting to really make an impact.

“Don’t do what you can’t undo, until you’ve considered what you can’t do once you’ve done it.”

Despite all this, I still plan on continuing on with this series, because I can somehow recognize why this introductory story can come to hold a special place in someone’s heart after the rest of the story has unfolded.
The story is told from the first person by Fitz, which creates a very intimate atmosphere, conducive to getting gradually more and more attached to a character. Even now I can vividly remember scenes from the book and associate them with Fitz’s experiences and feelings, which in some way illustrates that the author managed to plant a seed of affection despite my prevailing drowsy feeling while reading. This gives me hope that the series will sneak up on me and eventually grow into something special. That’s why I do plan on continuing on in this series, in search of that click and hoping that at some point I will find the writing style engaging and immersive.

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