Assassin's Apprentice is the story of Fitz, who arrives at Buckkeep barely more than a child. He is branded early on as the bastard of Prince Chivalry Farseer, eldest & deceased son of King Shrewd Farseer. And so begins the slow & steady descent of our main character into a life fraught with hardship after hardship.
Which brings us around to one of my main struggles with this story. The first 80-85% of this book is a slow trudge through Fitz's childhood, exploring the many brutal ways in which he is ostracized by his peers, bullied by his superiors, & deprived of the connections he so desperately desires.
Fitz's relentless misfortune definitely wore me out on an emotional level.
It's not even that he's always suffering in some huge, dramatic way. Fitz's younger years are made up of a variety of large & small hurts that, combined, would threaten to topple even a confident adult. I found this aspect of the story to be quite believable, but exhausting.
There are definitely a lot of recognizable fantasy archetypes present here:
✘ Underdog/Bastard MC
✘ Gruff Father Figure
✘ Bratty Prince
✘ Wise Old Master
✘ Chosen One
But I don't believe any one of them are written in a way that feels overdone. Each character is believable in their role & defined enough that they transcend their archetypal labels.
I would've liked to know a bit more about the world outside of Buckkeep. I have a decent idea about what goes on there, but not a very clear picture of the Duchies outside of that one or the surrounding lands.
I think perhaps the strict first person PoV is a bit damaging in this respect because we are limited to experiencing places as Fitz visits them, and because he is a child for a lot of the book he spends most of his time at Buckkeep. But seeing that Hobb has shown herself to be a thorough writer, I feel as though this aspect will likely remedy itself in the later installments of the series.
The two forms of magic introduced to us do help make up a bit of ground in the world building department. The Wit & The Skill are both forms of mental connection, the former having to do with bonding to animals & the latter having to do with subtly influencing the actions of people.
I have heard for years that Robin Hobb is a queen among Fantasy authors, and purely from this first experience with her writing style I can definitely see why she has earned that reputation. Her way with words is beautifully poised. It's the kind of writing that falls into place so effortlessly that it inspires you to try your own hand at it.
I found myself plenty of times thinking "Wow what a lovely way to phrase that!"
Speaking of writing, I think an important thing to know going into this series is that this first book is very foundational. It spends a lot of quality time developing Fitz through his adolescence, so much so that by the end you really do feel as though you've experienced years of his life.
Because of this, the pace is absolutely slow. Slow to the point that I was actually feeling the drag, and I typically don't have issues with a sluggish pace. However, the climax of the book is certainly more exciting & justifies all the time spent getting there.
I don't know if I'll ever reread this book, as it is more of a framework than anything else. It is methodically crafted & necessary, but to say I enjoyed it might give the wrong impression. I do respect it for what it is, and I believe it serves its purpose in setting the stage for events later to come.