Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I read most of Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders/Rain Wilds series (and was eager to finish it, but it wasn’t completely written at that point!) years ago, and when I was leaving on a trip I thought I’d pick up another series of hers and take a little “fantasy vacation,” too.
I’m glad I was reading this one on a plane; otherwise, I might not have finished it.
In fact, I am not sure if I’ve read this one before or not, which maybe isn’t the best sign.
It’s not a bad story at all; it’s full of court intrigue and a light dusting of magic. Characters are relatable, I enjoy the castle keep setting, and I was pulled along to reach the end.
However, compared to the Liveship Traders series, (or at least my memories of it) this book was pretty dull.
I kept having the thought that, in the hands of another writer, this same story would have been more enlivened. As it was, it was like the narrator couldn’t decide if he was being unreliable or not. At first this is forgivable: it starts with our hero–a bastard son of the king without a formal name (awkward!)–as a young child. He has a child’s perspective and it makes sense that he wouldn’t necessarily recall some things.
But as the kid grows up and becomes the titular assassin’s apprentice, I just kept finding myself wanting more. More details about training to be an assassin, about how to kill, about his childhood training and his relationship with the others at the keep. Instead, things are mentioned frequently in passing, and more time is devoted toward side stories that frankly I never got particularly invested in. The end result is that I liked the book but feel like there was a lot of dithering and wasted time. It felt more like a book I was reading just because I was trapped on a plane than something I was really drawn to keep going with. The moments that seemed like potential for incredible action descriptions I found myself daydreaming about–how would I have written that? What could have happened on that misadventure? What greater depth could that scene show?
I read this on an ereader, so I don’t know page numbers, but I do know that the really exciting and interesting stuff–I’ll have to leave it out in case you decide to read it anyway–didn’t show up until I was 90% through with the book.
Then the action was over before I could blind and it turned out the last 5% of the book was filler, so that wasn’t a lot of room for a denouement, either.
Part of me is still curious about the rest of the trilogy, and though I mostly had figured out the twists in this one before they happened, it was still an interesting courtly intrigue type plot, so I’m curious as to what might happen next. But I wouldn’t rank it as engaging fantasy and I don’t feel pressed to immediately pick up the next book. Maybe it can wait until I need to wait in an airport again.
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Robin Hobb, fantasy (and science fiction) writer extraordinaire, did an AMA on Reddit recently. This was one gem from the conversation:
Question: from user Livin_Right
How much time to you spend daydreaming about your stories before you put pen to paper? Do you have most plot ideas worked out in your head first, or do you start writing and let it take you where it may?
Daydreaming? That’s almost my full time occupation! But from the time I get an idea to the time when there is enough of it to say, “This will be a book and it’s time to start writing” is usually at least a year, and often much longer. Many times I’ll get a tiny gem of an idea, and I love it, but it’s not really enough to be a whole short story, let alone a book. So I set it aside and wait. And other bits of it come to me, dialogue or names or settings, and I add that to it. And Wait. And what usually happens is that I’ll be perusing the story seeds, and I’ll suddenly see that two or even three or four are all parts of the same story. When you put them together, they start striking sparks off each other, and growing. It’s wonderful. Then it’s time to write the book.
I love this comment so much. It’s just so perfect. With my first book, I had the idea a good three years before it formed itself into a nice book-sized concept, and it took 6 months to complete (even with the 50,000 words clocked during NaNoWriMo!). Just so fantastic!
Question: from user -August-
Hello and welcome back. I’ve read you will write a story without trying to form it along a certain path and just let if flow, if you will. While I enjoy this idea when reading it, seeing the characters go through good and hard times, I’m sure it could have its ups and downs on the writing side. Do you ever regret writing like this? Is there anything you would change?
I think of Story as this big river. If I can get out into the main current and then hang on for dear life, it will sweep me along and I just follow the story wherever it goes. It works wondrously well for me. Except when it doesn’t. And when that happens, when I suddenly find myself stranded in the muddy shallows with the story going nowhere, then I have to ‘lighten the raft’ so to speak, usually by discarding the last 50 or 100 pages that I’ve typed. So. Yes, there are definite hazards to trusting your Muse, but my experience has been that the rewards are greater than the risks.
This is fantastic, too. I’ve never cut out 50-100 pages of a story before (and OUCH does that sound painful!) but Robin Hobb is an excellent fantasy writer and I’m completely with her comment regarding trusting the muse. I could not have told you how my book would have ended when I began. I had a feeling, but not a certainty. It took working with the characters and the environment to formulate it into a cohesive whole.
I’m glad I discovered this AMA; it’s excited me as a writer and as a reader. I read a crush of Hobb’s Rain Wild series in middle school, but lost track of the series. I think I know what I need to pick up as my next book!