I’ve been sitting on this review for better than a week, because I just have no idea what to say. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I could easily sum up Royal Assassin in a single sentence. But that sentence would just be incredibly spoilery, and I’m not sure how else to talk about it without doing that. So here I’ve sat, not writing anything, but instead turning it over and over in my head, since Mary is still like half a book behind me so I can’t start the next one yet anyway. And I honestly might wait longer, gorging on comics all the while, except that my newest device is having touchscreen problems and I’m maybe about to have to ship it off for repairs, so, uh… yeah.
The thing about Assassin’s Apprentice is that it’s dark and grim from start to finish. The Fitz starts off as an unwanted bastard, learns of his secret royal parentage (but in the “still totally a bastard” way, not the “gonna end up the king of everything” way that usually happens in fantasy), trains to become an assassin (I mean, like you’d expect. It’s right there in the title!), and makes friends and enemies along the way. In the end, he faces a challenge and comes out beat up badly, but successful.
(There’s more to the review behind this cut, because my god the spoilers just explode everywhere.)
In a conclusion that will be of no surprise to anyone much, I should have read a Robin Hobb book long before now. Still, though, I’ve read Assassin’s Apprentice now; and to make up for how overdue that is, I at least had a reading companion.
To the extent that I went in with expectations, they were these: that these books are bleak and dark and full of horrible events occasionally broken up by fleeting happiness. After one such book, I have to say my expectations were largely fulfilled. It’s funny, Fitz is not a perfectly reliable narrator, but you can tell that he wants to be. His failures are not failures to see himself clearly, or unwillingness to admit to himself or his audience some dark truth or other. It’s just, his life has been so far outside the bounds of normalcy (or even the bounds of viewpoint characters in low magic fantasy realms) that he honestly cannot see just how bad he has it; and contrariwise, he cannot really tell when he is being treated badly instead of normally. It’s an impressive series of blind spots.
Nevertheless, the moments of pure happiness are there, and I had constant empathy for him, and empathy for others inhabiting his world, and interest in that world and what will happen next. It’s not just the 20+ years of bibliography that have built up. Even from this book alone, I can tell that only a very small part of what could be a very large story indeed has been told. The fact that people I trust say the quality doesn’t drop off is purely icing.
 Or, okay, this is a trilogy. It might be more fair to say that it’s obvious there’s a lot of trilogy left to tell, with a lot of escalation between here and there. My expectations of even more than that lurking around the edges could be better described as Stockholm Syndrome from one too many doorstop series? Whatever, I like them long to the point of unending.