Assassins Apprentice: The Illustrated Edition | Chapter 6 of 53

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Closing the Circle

25TH ANNIVERSARY ILLUSTRATED EDITION of ASSASSIN’S APPRENTICE

Robin Hobb

In May of 1995, Bantam Books published Assassin’s Apprentice, a fantasy novel ostensibly by a new writer: Robin Hobb. As I write this foreword, more than two decades have passed. Those two decades have seen a great deal of change in my life. When I wrote Assassin’s Apprentice, the soundtrack was a two-year-old who was obsessed with the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast in the living room, and teenagers playing D&D in the kitchen. Now my home is empty of children, except when the grandkids, the new wave of teenagers, come to visit. I wrote the first draft of Assassin’s Apprentice on my very first computer, a Kaypro, and my office was a corner of the laundry room. Now I have a custom desktop, a laptop, and a tablet to keep up with the work.

The changes didn’t happen all at once. Over those twenty-five years, Robin Hobb has written more than a score of novels and short works. Fitz’s tale, which was to be just a trilogy, now runs to sixteen volumes. We have seen his story translated into more than twenty-two languages, reaching readers all over the world. The books have won awards and climbed bestseller lists. There are still days when Megan Lindholm sits back and is a bit stunned by that.

But as wonderful as those things are, the reactions of individual readers are far more significant to me. Fitz and the Fool have ardent followers. Not only emails arrive from readers, but real letters and cards, hand-addressed, bearing stamps from every country. It is humbling to read those notes, or to have a brief but meaningful conversation at a signing; a reader closes the circle and tells me that the characters and stories that I sent out reached them in a special way.

I have spoken to other writers about this phenomenon. When it finds you (whatever we call “it”—the Muse, inspiration, Story), writing moves past the careful construction of a plot line and the adding-in of needed characters. Story overflows outline and cuts its own passage through the valley of fiction. For the writer, it’s an immersion. I don’t remember writing scenes and chapters; I recall a conversation on a snowy tower top with Fitz, or the warmth and sounds of a stable lit by lantern light. I’ve smelled the fragrances of the Women’s Garden, and heard the mocking lilt of the Fool’s laughter.

Sometimes, that same immersion engulfs the reader.

When I converse with those readers, we don’t discuss words on a page. We reminisce about people we know, and the adventures we shared with them. The characters (not just Fitz and the Fool, but all of them, Chade and Burrich and Molly and Regal) became real. We’ve seen their faces and heard their distinct voices. Readers have hiked the windy cliffs near Buckkeep, shivered in the perpetual chill of Shrewd’s great hall, and dodged cobwebs in the labyrinth of spy passages in those stone walls.

Their affection for the characters and stories spill over into their real lives. I have received photos of dogs, cats, parrots, and even children named after the characters. I’ve seen wonderful cosplay of the characters from places as far away as Taiwan and Australia. My walls are now overwhelmed with fan art as readers apply their own layer of creativity to make the story theirs.

And I understand what those things mean. They are about connection, about closing the circle of writer, characters, and readers. I understand because I’ve been the reader sending that letter or small gift to a writer I’ve never met. I sent them because I wanted that writer to know that I’d met their characters. Their characters had become my friends. I hadn’t read a story; I’d shared a life.

Many, many years ago, before the beginning of my writing career, I wrote an ardent letter to Fritz Leiber. He was one of my writing heroes, but he’d written a story in which one of his characters experienced a grave change in his life and abilities. It was a character he’d written many previous stories about, and I was distressed. How could he do that to a character he obviously loved? I didn’t understand.

Mr. Leiber took the time to send me back a letter, handwritten in what looked like crabbed and painful penmanship. He explained to me that characters had to be challenged. They had to grow and change. He told me that if the happy ending of the tale was just a return to how things had been at the beginning, well, what was the point of writing that story at all?

That was a truth I needed to hear. I looked at my previous stories and realized that in all of them, I’d been protecting my characters. Things might happen to them, but those things were not absolutely terrible nor life-changing. I went back to work on a story I’d started. I finally allowed life to happen to some of my characters. And that was the first book I ever sold: Harpy’s Flight by Megan Lindholm. Mr. Leiber had closed the circle between writer, story, and reader. In doing so, he’d given me what I needed to write stories of my own that, in turn, might reach other readers.

I hope that my readers have shared that same feeling as they followed Fitz and all the events in the Realm of the Elderlings. In twenty-five years, Fitz went from a bewildered five-year-old to a skilled assassin to a weathered man in his sixties. Friends and companions came and went in his life. He had times of hardship and loneliness, and times of peace and contentment. Book after book, the readers and I accompanied him. We sustained losses and shared moments of recognition and joy. Then, in 2017, with the publication of Assassin’s Fate, the tale wound to a close. Readers have asked me how it felt to write that final page. Inevitable is one word for it. From the time I began writing Assassin’s Apprentice to the moment that last page of the final draft of Assassin’s Fate came rattling out of my printer, I knew where the story must eventually lead. Story has a current of its own. It can’t be defied forever.

If you are new to the Realm of the Elderlings, welcome. If this is not your first journey, I thank you for venturing again into Fitz’s world. Either way, I hope you enjoy this very special edition. I was thrilled when Magali Villeneuve agreed to do the illustrations for this book. In a strange way, Fitz introduced me to her, for it was on a visit to France for a book tour that I first saw her art in an exhibition and was able to speak with her. I treasure a pencil sketch of FitzChivalry that she sent me as a gift with a copy of her A Journey Through Illustrations, published in 2015. I have #1 of the 500 copies! I’ve treasured it for years, never imagining that someday she would fill an edition of Assassin’s Apprentice with images of not only Fitz, but Burrich and Molly and Chade and so many of my other characters, all brought to life with her talent.

But most of all, I thank you for offering my characters a home in your heart.

Comments

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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