I read each day on the bus. Each morning after frantically getting ready for work and doing the 250-yard-dash to the bus stop to catch the 825 downtown, I’m able to spend a solid 23 minutes reading. Then after work I get the same (if slightly less frantically-prepared) block of time to read and unwind. One of my favorite experiences is finishing my book on the morning trip. I’m able to spend the remainder of my time that day re-reading the beginning of the novel.
Beginnings of novels are strange places. Readers are helpless, drowning in page after page of uncertainty. Often nothing makes sense: you don’t know who the narrator is, characters are just names and especially fantasy books are stuffed full of words that sound like gibberish when you first see them. After completing the novel the beginning is a totally different place: I can go back and find all sorts of extra depth that was invisible to me during the first read-through. That was my experience after having completed Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice. Especially after re-reading the beginning, I was struck by Hobb’s characters. They are deep and complex, like real people. There are no stock characters, and the ones that hint at less complexity also happen to be the ones that we don’t yet know well. Each has a history that is gradually revealed over the course of the book which informs his or her choices and reactions.
Beloved’s Fool’s comment really resonates with me when I re-read it after completing the first book, especially the third paragraph:
I found the characters to be beautifully shaped and very human, very flawed in believable ways. I was so caught up in the characterizations, in fact, that it wasn't until I finished book one that I realized what Hobb had accomplished. She had slowly and subtly built this world around me as I read. Because I was learning about it along with Fitz, I didn't realize how much I was learning.
In particular, I like the description of the characters as “flawed in believable ways.” To this I would add that the characters are also scarred by their experiences in very convincing ways. For example, the main character of The Assassin’s Apprentice, Fitz Farseer, lacks self-confidence, but in a way that makes him seem real, rather than in a way that beats you over the head with his potential for character development.
[Mild Spoilers to follow]