Monday 23 May 2022

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Re-Read Review: Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb

A photo of Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb half on a light grey, fluffy pillow case, and half on a navy blue scarf with silver stars and moons. The book is diagonal, top left to bottom right. Around it are a light grey mortar and pestle with herbs in, a silver bladed letter opener with a black handle, a small jar of rose powder, and a small bottle of oil with rose petals and sakts in.

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Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb

Published: 27th March 2014 | Publisher: HarperVoyager | Source: Bought
Robin Hobb’s Website

The kingdom of the Six Duchies is on the brink of civil war when news breaks that the crown prince has fathered a bastard son and is shamed into abdication. The child's name is Fitz, and he 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.
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Things haven't been too great in the world recently, and it was bringing me down. So I decided to have a comfort re-read of a series I knew would bring me joy; I was going to hang out with Fitz and the Fool again, and picked up Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb, the first book in The Farseer Trilogy, the first book set in The Realm of the Elderlings. However, I had forgotten just how awuful Fitz's life is at times. And so I became emotionally involved all over again, my heartbreaking for Fitz more times than I could count. But this re-read was different.

It's so fascinating to me how can you can get something different from books when you re-read them. Sometimes it's things you didn't notice before, and knowing where the story will go, some elements become more relevant. But sometimes it's due to the reader themselves, and where they're at in their lives. The first time I read Assassin's Apprentice, I was around 14, and as I read what was already published, and subsequent books when they were published, I grew up alongside Fitz and the Fool. The last time I read it was eight years ago. This time, I'm now the same age or older than a fair number of the adult characters. Time and experience have led me to read this book with different eyes. While the story is narrated by Fitz, and we only get his perspective, I saw characters like Burrich, Chade, and Verity differently. Their relationships with Fitz, their motivations and their intent. While Fitz feelings towards these people are - the man who was told to bring him up, who he felt was too harsh; the man who teaches him how to be an assassin; the prince he is most loyal to - I discovered new-found joy in them. My understanding of them, and how much they loved him, in their own way, more so Burrich and Chade, really moved me. They truly loved him.

This was more plain to me in Fitz and Burrich's relationship. Despite Fitz not liking him a huge deal a lot of the time, I have always liked Burrich. Now I love him. He took on another man's son, as he was ordered, as was his duty, and tried to raise him the best he could. Fitz is young boy and a young teenger for Assassin's Apprentice, and his grievances towards Burrich are those of a boy. It definitely depends on each reader and how they see things, but in my opinion, Burrich never did him wrong. He grew to love him, to truly care about him and his welfare, and to fight for him, quite literally at times. He did his best by him, through the lens of what he believes it means to be a good man. He truly was his father, if not in name or by blood, and I have so, so much love for Burrich. I understood him so much more this time round, and I just think he's an incredible man.

I viewed most of Fitz relationships differently this time round, and it had me thinking about the trope of found family. Fitz is Prince Chivalry's bastard, but we never see him. Instead, we see the people who he is given over to by order of the king and the prince himself. No-one could really say that characters are ordered to have a relationship with someone, that they're found family. But it always goes beyond orders. As I said already, Burrich loved him. As did Chade; though they are related (Chade is technically his great uncle), their blood ties were not the reason for their relationship, but their positions as bastards and their usefulness to the crown. But their relationships does become one of love, and quite quickly. Another father figure for Fitz. In these cases, Fitz didn't choose Burrich or Chade, and they didn't choose him, but real genuine relationships form between them. And no matter what Fitz himself might say, he loves them both, too - including Burrich. And then there's Patience, the wife of Fitz's father, who, a few years after his death, returns to Buckeep simply for Fitz's sake. Despite the fact that her husband had a child before they were married, despite the fact that she herself cannot have children, and the hurt that Fitz's existence causes her, she chooses him. She sees a young boy who isn't treated as deserving of his bloodlines, in her opinion, and she chooses to do something about it. She sees a boy without a mother or a father, thrust into court life, with no-one looking out for him - or so she believes - and decides to be the person that will. Again, I have always liked Patience, but my awe and respect for her grew this time round, and just thinking of what she does for this young boy makes me quite emotional. She chooses Fitz, and Fitz has a mother. It's difficult to talk about the complexities of the relationship dynamics without writing an essay on them, but the family Fitz has, the people who choose, beyond duty, to be in his life, to see to his care in various ways... I understood it all a lot better this time round, and I honestly love them all. It's not found family exactly, but it's chosen family; they choose Fitz, and Fitz comes to choose them.

But Assassin's Apprentice was also a lot more sad than I remembered. Fitz life really is awful at time. He is tested by many people in many different ways, and he is hurt time and time again. My heart broke multiple times, and there were moments of such rage! When I first read this book, Fitz and I were of a similar age; now I'm an adult the same age as Patience and Burrich, and I'm starkly reminded that he is a young boy, technically still a child, and he's treated so very badly. It's strange to see Fitz through these much older eyes and see him as someone much younger than me, and wanting to protect him, rather than feeling like we're the same age, as growing up with these books had always felt like. But I do; I feel protective over Fitz in a way I hadn't previously. It's strange to think how my relationship with this book has changed, but I honestly don't think I've previously loved it or it's characters as much as I do now. Which is saying something, because I already adored it!

I'm very looking forward to continuing my re-read, and seeing how I view the next book. I'm loving being amongst these characters again!

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