The Plot:The Kingdom of the Six Duchies is heading towards civil war, and further problems arise when is comes to light that the King-in-waiting has fathered a bastard son, Fitz. He is raised in the castle keep, resented by the populace but cared for by the gruff stable master, Burrich. As Fitz approaches adulthood, by order of the King, he begins his secret training to become an assassin including an eduction in the Skill, the ability to ability to infiltrate and influence people's minds. He also shows a taboo affinity with animals, known as Wit.
I know this is is only the first in the series, and I shouldn't compare it to all the books in The Song of Ice and Fire, however there are a couple of points I'd like to make. Firstly, Assassin's Apprentice has one first person narrator, instead of George R.R Martin's multiple narrators, which is not necessarily a negative, it just means Assassin isn't as interconnected as Song.
As the world of A Song of Ice and Fire is huge, and because of the numerous perspectives, there are many female characters that are principle figures and portray a breadth of femininity and womanhood. In Assassin's Apprentice there was a distinct lack of women, Princess Kettricken has some potential, but she is only introduced towards the end of the novel. Fantasy as a genre in heavily dominated by men, look at the books/films of Lord of the Rings, so George R.R Martins uses of female protagonists is really appealing to me, I hoped as woman Robin Hobb would have also put women centre stage.
Another small point- Hobb isn't as ruthless as Martin who has no problem killing off main characters. This means it's more likely to have a happy ending, but could be in danger of being predictable.
Comparisons aside, I really enjoyed Assassin's Apprentice, infighting, sibling rivalry, court intrigue and politics are all right up my street. As the world expands, I'm sure these elements are coming to develop and intertwine. Fitz is a fantastic character, his status as a royal bastard means his standing in society is uncertain, he has access to the nobility, but is not one of them. His training in the Skill and hidden Wit ability add an unique fantasy element to the novel. I enjoyed reading about his education, and it gives a good indication of how his future is going to play out.
As well as civil unrest, the main threat comes from pirates who kidnap peasants and alter them in a way that destroys their humanity, they become feral only concerned with satisfying base instincts. They are suitably scary, and I think have the potential to be greater foe that the White Walkers of a Song of Ice and Fire.
Another thing I really liked is that the nobility are given names that are supposed to indicate and influence their personality, for example, Shrewd, Chivalry, Patience, Desire. I just thing it's a really nice touch, and explores ideas of nature and nurture. Names that appear to be virtues, can also have unexpected consequences, for example Desire indicates the queen's beauty and status as a trophy wife, but also shows her ambition for the crown in her own right.
To quickly summarise, Assassin's Apprentice has got the series off to a cracking start, and I'm excited to see how Fitz's story unfolds.