Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Summer Reading: Assassin's Apprentice

In general, I don't enjoy the use of the first person in narrative literature. I think this is because many young adult books are written in the first person, and so I frequently associate the technique with the trashy sci-fi compendiums I used to read in elementary and middle school. The first person also tends to give away the ending to a certain extent, since any protagonist who manages to find time to sit down and write a 400-page tome about his adventures (using a quill and vellum, no less) can't have fared too badly in his own tale. How different the speculation around the ending of Harry Potter would have been had the series been written in the first person!

I was pleasantly surprised to find that Assassin's Apprentice, which is written exclusively in the first person, is an excellent book. The story is told by Fitz, the bastard son of Prince Chivalry, the eldest son of the King of the Six Duchies. The Duchies are beset by the Red-Ship Raiders, a powerful group of pirates who are waging war upon the coastal towns of the Duchies. Secretly training to be an assassin for the king, Fitz tries to navigate court intrigue and his own adolescence without ending up dead.

Of the several things I love about this book, I especially enjoy the fact that in the grand scheme of things, not much happens. This is the first book of the Farseer Trilogy, and Hobb seems to think that there will be plenty of time for defeating the bad guys later in the series. She is much more interested, in this first book, in giving us a chance to get to know the world which she has built, and so the plot is mainly centered around the details of the life of Fitz. That's not to say the book is humdrum, however; the life of a royal bastard secretly training to be an assassin in the midst of a war is anything but boring, but the war itself, though important, provides a backdrop, rather than an impetus, for the plot.

Hobb also clearly values poetic writing, and her prose, though not difficult, is refined, with the occasional SAT word ("lambent") to keep readers on their toes. Phrases like "the brittle night sky" and "the hounds of a man's mind" seem perfectly at home within the rest of the text. She has even created a character, the witty royal jester, who exists at least partially to show off her skill at turning a twisted phrase.

The third great thing about this trilogy is that it is actually the first of a trilogy of trilogies, all set in the same world, the Realm of the Elderlings. The first two trilogies, called the Farseer Trilogy and the Liveship Traders Trilogy, have no relation to one another other than that they take place in the same world. Or so I believed, until I was told that the Tawny Man Trilogy ties the two together. I read The Liveship Traders last summer, and the Farseer Trilogy several years ago. Both, as I recall, feature intricate but believable plots, so I am very excited to see how it all fits together once I finish re-reading the Farseer Trilogy to refresh my memory.

Grade: A

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