The first entry into the Elderlings Corpus is Robin Hobb’s 1995 Assassin’s Apprentice. It is not the first of the Elderlings novels I read, though. In time, it has also become other than the first work to take place chronologically in the milieu. But it remains the first book in the main narrative arc of the Elderlings Corpus, introducing characters whose deeds occupy most of the stories Hobb has told as of this writing. It remains, therefore, the best place to start rereading the novels again.
The text of the novel opens with a chapter titled “The Earliest History.” Its first paragraph is an excerpt from a piece being composed within the milieu, not unlike the Encyclopedia Galactica from Asimov’s Foundation novels. It moves thence swiftly into the recollections of the piece’s author, who muses on the indulgences shown to him and the enthusiasm of his earlier teachers before beginning his own recollections.
The narrator–and the Farseer books, as well as the series that follow them, the Tawny Man and Fitz & the Fool trilogies, work in first-person narration–asserts that his memories begin on a day when he was some six years old, and he questions their validity and their source. I recall it being a point at which I fell into what I would later learn to call affective reading; I identified wit the narrator at that point, having little if any recall of what happened before I was six, and wondering if what I remember is what happened or what I was told happened, my family repeating the same stories again and again until my perspective on the events cemented as if I were there and could bring them to mind.
Too, I find I cannot escape sentimentality; I cannot help but feel for the narrator as he describes being taken by his grandfather from his mother and delivered, without affection, to a keep over which his illegitimate father was king-to-be. He is taken to his uncle, named Verity, and thence dispatched to the care of his father’s footman, Burrich. Burrich takes the boy in hand, calling him Fitz for his bastardy, and the narration passes over some time until an incident in which Verity and Regal confer, with Burrich attending, on his fate. Regal proposes killing him; Verity ignores the suggestion, but heeds the command from their father, the king, that his illegitimate nephew is to be brought to the royal court at Buckkeep. In advance of Fitz’s arrival there, his father abdicates his claim to the throne; Fitz never sees his father in the flesh. It’s not something I can comfortably imagine, either as a son or as a father, though I know it is the case for many, many people.
I’ve remarked before, I believe, that Fitz’s beginning is hardly the most auspicious. He is a bastard, and one effectively abandoned by his closest kin. While his more extended family does take some measures to bring him in, they are hardly kindly ones, and it is not to be wondered at that things proceed as they do for Fitz as the novel–and, indeed, the Elderlings corpus as a whole–proceeds.
A couple of other thoughts on the chapter to close out:
- It occurs to me that Chivalry, the narrator’s absent father, is “supposed” to be the hero. The name suggests that he is an embodiment of honor, and descriptions of the character reported by others generally confirm it. That he fathers a bastard son whom he never appears to see or to acknowledge (though others in the family do) suggests either a failure on his part or a comment by Hobb about the ultimately flawed nature of chivalric constructions. There is no end of scholarship on the latter idea, as even a casual Google Scholar search shows–and there are better searches to run, to be sure, though those rely on more restricted resources.
- Following up on the idea of commentary, if Fitz is the bastard by-blow of Chivalry, does the profession he enters–foreshadowed by the title of the novel, really–serve as the sign of chivalric failure? That is, does Fitz’s formal profession serve as the illegitimate but seemingly inevitable product of putatively upright conduct? For many or most chivalric narratives admit readily of bastards; in Malory, even the most noble of knights–Galahad (since he achieves the Grail)–is the illegitimate child of the most worshipful Lancelot, and Mordred is the natural son of Arthur. How necessary is such a thing, then, given the tension between what should be and what is? I’m not yet sure, but it’s something on which to think.