A Robin Hobb Rereading Series–Entry 4: Assassin’s Apprentice, Chapter 4

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The next chapter in Assassin’s Apprentice, “Apprenticeship,” continues the pattern of opening chapters with in-milieu commentary that bears in on the topic of the chapter; the passage regards education, as the chapter does. Fitz wakes to find his chamber, which he had thought private, attended to, and he is disrupted from his routines yet again to be fitted for clothing. While he is thus fitted, he overhears the gossip of the tailoring staff and learns more of the back-story of his origin and his father’s discommendation.

An image of Chade Fallstar,
taken from the Realm of the Elderlings Wiki,
used for commentary / reporting.

After, Fitz resumes weapons training and his other lessons. That evening, his clothing is delivered to him; it bears the emblem of the royal house with a cadence mark denoting his bastardy. He asks Burrich about it as he helps the older man mend tack; Burrich opines about Chivalry’s failure to some extent.

Regular routines and Fitz’s sense of isolation resume. Fitz continues to study as Shrewd has commanded, musing on his loneliness until one night sees him summoned to follow a cadaverous, pock-marked figure behind the walls of Buckkeep. It is Chade, the king’s assassin, who is frank about his trade and the fact that Fitz will be trained in it–by him. The two pass a late night in what is, in effect, Fitz’s first night of study as an assassin; he has become the assassin’s apprentice of the novel’s title.

The next day sees Fitz confer with Burrich about Chivalry once again. The two seem to arrive at a new understanding of one another, though Burrich still sees the failure of his master in the bastard boy, and Fitz remains uneasy around the man.

The chapter is notable in being the one that cements Fitz into the eponymous role of the novel. It does as much as anything to move him away from being the warrior-hero who typifies Tolkienian-tradition fantasy literature (as I’ve commented), or even the renouncing heroes who are the ostensible focus of Lord of the Rings (though it could be argued that Aragorn is the actual protagonist of the story)–while bastards often rise above the challenges of their births in the dominant streams of fantasy literature, assassins are almost always antagonistic, and even the sneakier protagonists stop far, far short of the kind of quiet killing that is an assassin’s stock in trade. For Fitz to begin to work to become an assassin, then, moves him into a realm of endeavor that would normally be called evil–yet he remains a sympathetic protagonist, and it is not to be wondered at that a nation-state would resort to such measures as assassination to maintain its power and internal security.

At the same time, Fitz remains firmly entrenched in the more “upright” pursuits expected of a minor noble. As noted in the previous chapter, he is on tap to use as a royal envoy, and so he must be trained in the skills and knowledge befitting such an envoy. It is a reaffirmation of much of the Tolkienian tradition and its ennobled warrior-hero that such a figure be skilled in practical and intellectual arts–literacy and at least basic mathematics are expected knowledge, in addition to fighting, equestrian arts, and the like. In the chapter, then, Hobb nuances the standard fantasy trope; the appearance of it remains in place, even as the truth that undergirds and supports it is far less traditionally wholesome.

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