I have just finished Assassins Apprentice by Robin Hobb, and thought I'd write a short review of my thoughts on it.
The Short Version - This is a great read, and I would recommend it highly, but it is something to settle in with and for a while, not five minutes at a time.
The story and themes were not what I had initially expected. I had assumed both from the subject and blurb, that this would be much more of a classic, boys' fantasy book, filled with suspense and action, epic fights and treachery. What I received instead, was an insightful look into the life of a boy, who became a man.
The book is written as a memoir of sorts, by an aging and now decrepit man who wishes to recant his youth. Fitz is a bastard born to the King-in-waiting, Prince Chivalry. Dumped by his grandfather at a military stronghouse at the age of six, he is shipped off to Buckkeep, the seat of the Six Duchies ruled over by King Shrewd.
As he begins to find his place in the world, the king and other influential members of the keep, find ways to use this boy to their advantage. After all, there is a lot to be gained from a person who has regal bearing and rights when needed, but is ultimately disposable as he is not part of the line of succession. We follow Fitz as he learns various trades, and despite his hard upbringing, excels at many of them.
We see him learn how to care for beasts, learn calligraphy and art, fumble at falling in love, and suffer abuse at the hands of those who believe him to be not worth the air he breathes. More than anything, we see a depth of introspection and self-reflection from a boy people assume is simple just because he is quiet. Fitz is given very few quarters and learns that everyone will have their own agenda, and many will resent him living despite his lack of choice in his birth, placement, or use in the world.
The book, for me, began slowly and then seemed to pick up speed the further I went. The rapidity of information felt like a good mirror of a young boy being thrust into an unknown world, struggling to keep up. There were moments I felt could have been clearer, but these too could have been deliberately murky, as the story is told from the perspective of an aged and decrepit man, reliving his youth to the best of his memories and yet, hampered by his current level of impairment. The climax of the plot I found truly unguessable, as there were several plot elements brought in, any one of which could have led to the finale, which I think is quite incredible, and something that may well be explored in future installments.
Without a doubt, if you are looking for a more thoughtful, and grounded fantasy book that focuses on the plights of a boy becoming a man, this is hands down the book for you.