Young Fitz is the bastard son of the noble Prince Chivalry, raised in the shadow of the royal court by his father’s gruff stableman. He is treated like an outcast by all the royalty except the devious King Shrewd, who has him secretly tutored in the arts of the assassin. For in Fitz’s blood runs the magic Skill–and the darker knowledge of a child raised with the stable hounds and rejected by his family. As barbarous raiders ravage the coasts, Fitz is growing to manhood. Soon he will face his first dangerous, soul-shattering mission. And though some regard him as a threat to the throne, he may just be the key to the survival of the kingdom.
Warnings: child abandonment and parental abuse, animal cruelty and death, attempted ‘assisted’ suicide, poisoning
While the age of the protagonist is mainly in teenage years during the course of this book, the themes of the book place it squarely in adult high fantasy. Assassin’s Apprentice tells the story of a royal bastard, who is assigned by his grandfather, the King, to fill the role of a King’s Man, to do his dirty work in secret, as in be his assassin when need be. Fitz, the natural son of the Crown Prince Chivalry (who has no children of his own), is recognized to be the very image of the prince when he was young, and while he cannot be officially claimed by his father (who abdicates and goes off to a distant royal holding to live out the rest of his life), he is instead raised under the care of Chivalry’s own Man, Burrich, who is a stableman at the royal holdings. Living under the shadow of his identity as a bastard, yet knowing he will never be raised despite his royal blood, Fitz goes along with his grandfather’s plan, and trains from a very young age in the killing arts. But Fitz also has another secret that only Burrich knows – he has Wit, as in, he can communicate and bond with animals, and to some extent, feel out surface emotions in humans.
I will have to warn you – the story is slow-paced, it is depressing, and there are plenty of animals dying. It is mainly about Fitz’s early life, and it is narrated in a retrospect, so while you know he will eventually live out a long life (it is evident he is narrating when old), it is still a particularly hard life. Inside the castle, he has no friends – most folk deride him as a bastard and the cause for his father’s abdication from his roles as the heir, while the noble people, especially his younger uncle, Prince Regal, turn their noses up at him. The King, aptly named Shrewd, is not very affectionate to his only grandson, either, because he only sees him as a tool. Only his other uncle, Prince Verity, shows some kindness, but he is nevertheless distant due to their status and the politics surrounding his existence. So Fitz has only Burrich, who suppresses Fitz’s Wit for fear it might make him more animalistic, and later on Chade, who is the King’s current assassin. He also has a friend/crush on Molly Chandler, a girl he met when he was a child out in town.
While the story mainly concerns Fitz, there is a lot happening in the background too. Their kingdom is being attacked by raiders, who are doing something to the people in the coastal town, turning them into aggressive zombie-like states where they lack empathy. There is political intrigue as well, which I will let you discover yourself because I could write like a whole review about how much these royals screw each other over, and Fitz in particular. Fitz’s role in these events is mostly out of his control – he is a passive participant because he has been inducted to be the King’s Man since he was a kid, and thus has loyalty towards the King, but toward the end you find him questioning the royal’s family loyalty. There’s also a bit of magical element to the story, like the Wit and the Skill, and the Fool’s prophecies, but they don’t take a central role in the story as much as the politics does.
I read this as an audiobook, which was good because the slow pace would have had me slightly bored if I was reading this as text. It is quite descriptive, and frequently goes into tangents and backstories, but since I was listening to the story while painting, I felt I could concentrate better on the storyline. The narrator is okay – I found much later that the accent had me misspelling a lot of character names in my mind, and with the voice, I was finding it difficult to get the character’s ages. Well, that is partly on the author, too, because I couldn’t even tell you what was Fitz’s age by the end, or how much time had passed since his first mission; I only guess he was 16 because of how some characters reacted to him.
In short, it is a well-written high fantasy, but it is also sort of saddening than exciting in tone, and I would suggest reading it as an audiobook if possible.