Assassin’s Apprentice Vol. 1 is an adaption by Jody Houser of the novel by the same name from author Robin Hobb. The novel is Book 1 in Hobb’s “Farseer Trilogy”, which is also the first trilogy in her larger world of “The Realm of the Elderlings Series.” This graphic novel covers maybe half of the book it’s being adapted from. There could be a lot more of these coming if this adaptation is popular and there is a decent chance of that because the source material is beloved and this adaptation is faithfully done.
King Shrewd Farseer rules the land known as the Six Duchies with his sons Chivalry, Verity and their step-brother Regal. The Farseers are given names that are hoped to shape their lives in the tradition of the very first king, Taker. “Folk beliefs claim that such names were sealed to the newborn babes by magic.” Those of the Farseer line also are gifted with a type of magic called “the Wit” or “the Skill” and it is essentially a form of telepathy. We meet our young protagonist when his maternal grandfather drags him to an army outpost where Prince Verity is in charge and leaves him saying, “it’s Prince Chivalry’s bastard”. The child has no name and is only called “boy.” Verity entrusts Boy to the care of Burrich, Chivalry’s man-at-arms and most trusted right hand. Burrich, knowing nothing of children, leaves the boy he calls Fitz with his best dog and her pups. In that first night we learn that Fitz has the Wit and starts to unintentionally form a bond with the youngest pup.
King Shrewd has Fitz brought to his castle, Buckkeep, and the early days there are hard. He has no friends, no place and no family. Chivalry abandons his claim to the throne to spare his wife the talk and (we learn later) to protect Fitz from those who would see him as a threat. Burrich takes the pup away from Fitz as we learn they have become too close, too bonded and many see that as a perversion of the Wit and it threatens to make Fitz less man and more beast. Shrewd eventually takes an interest in Fitz and binds Fitz to his service with the Skill and makes him a tool to be used. Shortly hereafter Fitz meets an assassin & spy living secretly in the walls of the palace. He brings Fitz to a hidden room and begins his training as the next generation of spy and assassin in the Farseers’ service.
The art in this book from Ryan Kelly and the coloring from Jordie Bellaire feel immediately recognizable and scream Classic Fantasy. It’s a richly textured and the world feels fully realized. It greatly aids the introduction of the magic to the story without unnecessary exposition. Credit where it’s due to Jody Houser as well; adapting one of the most emotionally compelling and sympathetic characters in modern fantasy is no small feat. Hobb’s original novel is considered slow moving at times because such care and attention is given to the characters, creating real emotional stakes for the reader. Here, with the aid of visuals, it’s compressed while still being effective.
Dark Horse rates this book age 14+ and that feels appropriate given the title. Fitz is a bastard son and that word is used a lot, he’s training to be an assassin and that’s talked about for most of the latter half. That is the extent of the age restrictive content, but the original novel was written for an adult audience and as such a lot of the context for the book could be lost on younger readers. Simply understanding some of the nuance of the world is going to be easier for readers who are a little older. If you aren’t opposed to buying more volumes of this story (at least one for sure as part 2 of this tale is being published as individual issues at the time of this review), this is an easy recommendation for collections that could use more quality fantasy books.
Assassin’s Apprentice Vol. 1
By Jody Houser, Robin Hobb,
Art by Ryan Kelly
Dark Horse, 2023
Publisher Age Rating: 14+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)