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Assassin's Apprentice
The Farseer Trilogy, part one.
Written by Robin Hobb
Published 1995, by Harper Collins.
ISBN 0 00 648009 8

Assassin's Apprentice is the first novel of author Megan Lindholm under the name Robin Hobb and begins the story of a war between the Six Duchies, ruled by the Farseer line of whom Fitz, the protagonist, is a scion, and the Outislanders, a society of whom little is told in the story.

Fitz is the bastard son of the heir apparent of the Six Duchies' throne, and his discovery forces this highly moral man to abdicate his position, and to remove himself from court, leaving the raising of his son in the hands of Burrich who, until the abdication, had been Prince-in-waiting Chivalry's right hand man. Burrich suffers his demotion to Stablemaster and guardian of his prince's son silently, but takes his tasks seriously.

In the castle Fitz lives with Burrich, in his quarters over the stables and learns from him to tend to the horses, hawks and hounds which make up the life of the stables. Fitz is possessed of a maligned talent know as the Wit, which makes his forming bonds with animals as natural as breathing. Burrich becomes aware of this and is revolted and furious. He takes Fitz's bondmate, a puppy named Nosey, from him - leaving Fitz under the impression that the puppy has been killed. This does not inspire Fitz to trust in Burrich, although as his only companion he remains close to him.

While Fitz is still a child his grandfather, King Shrewd, takes possession of his loyalty not by accepting the boy as his grandchild and claiming the bonds of family, but with a promise that if Fitz will be loyal only to him, he will in return always ensure Fitz is clothed, fed and maintained. He tells the child that if any other should make him an offer for betrayal that Fitz should tell him, and he would better the offer. Soon afterward he begins, in secret, the apprenticeship to Chade Fallstar which gives the volume its name.

There are three other main players in the game which is Fitz life: King Shrewd's other two sons - Prince Verity, now King in waiting since the abdication of his elder brother Chivalry, and Prince Regal, the child of the king's second marriage, who has been taught from earliest childhood by his mother that he, and not either of Shrewd's older sons, should inherit the throne - and the king's Fool, and enigmatic figure who appears simple minded until it is suddenly made obvious that there is far more to him than a clever trickster.

It becomes apparent early in the book that Fitz's childhood is not to be a normal one. He can live neither as a commoner nor as a fully accepted member of the royal family. So he begins to live three lives. For most of his days he is kept busy in the castle - caring for the animals, attending lessons in weaponry and writing, and carrying out the tasks of a pageboy. Very often, in the dead of night he will be awoken by a secret door in his new chamber in the castle opening, allowing him to attend his lessons in assassination. When he is allowed freedom for an hour or an afternoon, though, he travels into the town of Buckkeep, on the shore below the castle, and runs with his low-born friends. It is during these hours of freedom his relationship with Molly, the daughter of a drunken and brutal widowed candle maker, begins.

Fitz's and Molly's courtship of one another is gradual. So gradual, in fact, that Fitz does not fully understand that it is, in fact, occurring. Nevertheless, Molly is the one true constant of happiness in Fitz's young life.

Fitz grows up in the midst of a court in turmoil both from without and from within. He grows through a series of experiences - from killing his first man to the brutal training in the Skill, the other magic in the Six Duchies, this one not in the least reviled, but kept only for royalty to be trained in. He learns his trades well, and grows closer to Molly.

When Fitz is included in the group who will travel to the Mountain Kingdom to claim Prince in Waiting Verity's bride, it is with instructions to kill the heir apparent, Prince Rurisk. Fitz discovers treachery, his plans go all awry, and his position becomes untenable

Only an unexpected meeting with an old friend can save his life.

This book is the opening into a world which one is most unwilling to leave. The story of Fitz and his companions, continued in Royal Assassin and Assassin's Quest is gripping and engaging. Robin Hobb's other trilogy, the Liveship Traders is just as engaging, partly for the unanswered questions it raises as to just how it links with the individuals and happenings of the first.

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