Top critical review
Warning - TITLE BAIT!
Reviewed in the United States on September 5, 2018
The Assassin's Apprentice... a more accurate title would have been "The Bastard Steward" or maybe "The Boy that No Job Fitz".
The root of the problem is that the title gives the impression the story is about a world of murder and a hero (or anti-hero) that must navigate its perils. The thing is Fitz is not really an assassin and may never be one. As many duties and opportunities pull him in, he barely has any time to train for his apprenticeship. Seriously, Fitz spends more time learning about the care of horses than murdering or fighting. More telling is the fact that his temperament is a terrible choice for a job (when it actually starts) that requires cold blooded killing without justification or remorse. Fitz, on the other hand, is an empathic, introspective, and wounded soul that desperately seeks both emotional connection and a higher purpose. It's an interesting dilemma for sure, but I'm not sure it's intentional.
Aside from the issue of poor job placement for the protagonist, there is very little action. To be blunt, the book is slow. When there is a bit of violence, it is glossed over quickly and in little detail. For example, Fitz's first (human) murder is recalled by him passively and with absolutely no tension or drama. In regards to mortal combat, he has exactly one stand up fight I can remember. All he has to wield at the time is a stick, as if the author wanted to avoid any bloodshed. I suppose it's just not the author's strength or intent to explore violence, but it takes the edge from what could have been high adrenaline events. As readers, we already know these are past experiences recalled by an aged Fitz. Spice things up, don't water down the action even further!
The final straw for me that makes further reading of this series unlikely is the awfully written antagonist. Without giving away any real spoilers, this person is just so one-dimensional and obviously a problem. And yet, no one does anything about it. I mean, the main character is supposed to be an idealistic assassin dealing out death to those who pose a threat to king and kingdom. In many areas, Fitz shows good initiative and intuition in defiance of others. Not here, and we as readers are forced to endure this cartoon villain for... three books?!
I will say that I really enjoyed the author's main character development and ability to communicate the turmoil of emotions and moral dilemmas Fitz faced. And she really heaped it on the poor boy - he endures heartbreak after heartbreak in a “safe space” free world. It definitely allowed the author to show off her writing strengths. Fitz's inner journey through his trials and his emotionally charged interactions with others are truly well written. Also, as main characters go he is neither mediocre (he's naturally intelligent, emotionally resilient, strong willed, and gifted with certain... powers) nor overpowered (that would have been his near perfect father or the precog albino called Fool). It's a great balance, and avoids the story pitfalls of either extreme.
Fitz really is the best thing about the book with great growth potential - a gem in the rough. If what I said about him resonates with you then this book is definitely worth the price. If not, then it’s still sure to be a tough but worthy read.