A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 11: Assassin’s Apprentice, Chapter 11

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

The next chapter, “Forgings,” opens with an extended musing on the legend of the Pocked Man in the Six Duchies; the figure is one cursed by El, one of the two gods the Duchies appear to acknowledge, made into an undying harbinger of pestilence whose appearance is a portent of doom. It pivots to comment on Fitz’s return to Buckkeep from his mission to Kelvar, which is onerous and highlights Chade’s skill in maintaining the fiction of Lady Thyme.

Coming of the Red-Ship by Sassar
Coming of the Red-Ship by Sassar on DeviantArt, used for commentary.

There is some comfort for Fitz, though; his efforts with Lady Grace meet resounding success and acclaim. Verity’s bachelorhood is noted, with Burrich commenting that Verity having a wife will do much to comfort the people of the kingdom. Verity himself, however, is distracted by the increasing Red-Ship raids and more Forgings. Popular responses to the attacks are sometimes harsh but understood as inevitable and necessary. The lack of a cohesive response from the Kingdom, however, sits ill with the populace, as Chade notes to Fitz during one of their late-night sessions.

Chade also comments with some aspersion about the politics in the Farseer dynasty, noting Verity’s deficiencies against the current situation (he “was raised to be second, not first,” and it shows) and Regal’s continued pampering. And Fitz’s regular lessons continue as Buckkeep girds for war, even if it does not yet strike out at its attackers.

Fitz is, however, able to resume his friendship with Molly. They talk together of the popular reaction in Buckkeep to the Forgings, as well as the anger building against Shrewd for his inaction. And in the wake of a conversation with her, when Fitz returns to the castle and scrounges a meal against the budding growth of his adolescent body, he encounters a noble woman not known to him. They make one another awkward, and Fitz leaves the encounter feeling a fool.

There is a fair bit of foreshadowing in the chapter, some of it working over longer terms within the novel than others. (Little if any of it extends to the other novels in the series.) Again, the idea of prognostication is one that pervades the Realm of the Elderlings novels, so its appearance in the present chapter is not a surprise. The cliffhanger of the meeting with the noblewoman, though, which is an instance of foreshadowing is somewhat annoying; it reads to me at present as a division-spanning item that might have done better in another place. Then again, strange events occur at jarring times, and the inclusion in its present position may well be a nod to that.

To return to the comment in the previous entry about the parallel between the Red-Ship raiders and current-to-this-writing perceptions of immigrants, there is a point in the chapter at which Molly notes to Fitz that local merchants have banded together to hire their own guard-ships. She comments that it may be a clever move on the part of Shrewd to allow them to do so, since they spend the money and he does not, and it may well be that. But there is also a parallel to near-current events, such as the ultimately racist and too-often too-close-to-Nazism militias that currently work ill on the southwestern border of the United States (and it’s always that border, not the much longer one at the north; I wonder [sarcastically] what the difference is). The book is decades old at this point, so there is no way it can be commenting on such events, but the parallels in the present reading are a bit much to ignore.

Realizing such is the case, I’m beginning to be uncomfortable with the novel in a way I was not before. I’m going to continue the re-read, of course; I try to carry through the projects I begin, although I am not always as good about that as I would like to be. But I have to acknowledge the shift in how I regard the work. I am not the reader I was when I first encountered the book; I am not even the reader I was when I was an aspiring scholar, working on the series for my master’s degree or turning to it again for conference papers and book chapters while I was working on my doctorate. I know more things than I did then, and I know differently the things I knew then. The opinions I form upon re-encountering things cannot help but differ, therefore. Many people seek to deny that they do; they try to regard things as settled when, ultimately, they are not. The failure to recognize such undergirds or informs a great many problems; I am glad to have the reminder, however small, that I ought not to make that particular mistake again.

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