Assassin’s Apprentice #4 Review

Writers: Robin Hobb & Jody Houser

Artist: Ryan Kelly

Colorist: Jordie Bellaire

Letterer: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou

Cover Artist: Anna Steinbauer

Publisher: Dark Horse

Price: $3.99

Release Date: March 8, 2023

A man awakens a boy in the middle of the night. His face is a map of wrinkles. He offers to teach him if the boy wishes to be a loyal servant to the king. The boy agrees without knowing what the man will teach him. What happens next? Let’s delve into Assassin’s Apprentice #4 and find out!

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Young Fitz lives in King Shrewd’s castle. He works for Burrich, the stablemaster. Fitz wears the royal seal, but the bastard wields no power. Old Chade offers to teach Fitz his trade. One proviso: Fitz must keep their lessons secret. Fitz has learned to keep his thoughts and feelings to himself. Chade expects the boy to question and make his own choices in life. But Fitz doesn’t like the idea of killing people, and his growing penchant for questioning authority could get him into trouble.

Half of Robin Hobb’s novel has passed in Assassin’s Apprentice #4. While Jody Houser packs more narrative and dialogue into this issue than in her usual less-is-more scripts, I wish she had prefaced this issue with all that’s occurred up to this point. A new reader has to piece this together on the fly and misses much, such as Fitz’s journey to the castle and his magical talent.


Ryan Kelly’s detailed drawing breathes Robin Hobb’s 1990 Fantasy novel to life. We follow Fitz through a medieval castle filled with the royal family and their servants. While the occasional close-up may obscure background details, he lavishes backgrounds with wood and stone architecture and dresses rooms with tools and furniture. Aristocrats dressed in their finery stand before windows or canopy beds. Like Howl’s Moving Castle, Chade’s quarters need a good cleaning. When Burrich mentions Fitz’s father, Ryan brings the stablemaster’s thoughts to life within a stable filled with horses, hay, tools, lanterns, and saddles. Because of his efforts, we believe that Fitz is a young boy wishing to prove himself, who honors authority and values loyalty.

In Assassin’s Apprentice #4, Jordie Bellaire colors Ryan Kelly’s page borders a smoky gray and individual panel edges beige. Her subdued color palette reminds us that light can be scarce in a castle or stable, particularly at night. She paints people and rooms blue in low lighting and adds purple for shading. Fires fill rooms with yellow and orange radiance (but they don’t talk to Fitz, unlike Howl’s fire demon Calcifer). When a character refers to someone not physically present, she employs a single color. There is magic in this world. Although writer Jody Houser doesn’t explain it, Jordie shows it as intricate streaks of yellow. Thus, she enhances this comic’s classic Prince Valiant vibe.

Letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou relays the narrative with typewriter-style lettering on scraps of torn beige parchment. He presents dialogue in easy-to-read uppercase lettering classic dialogue balloons. He may not go as Old School to reveal thoughts as puffy clouds, but his pleasing font grows bold to express intonation.

Final Thoughts

It’s been ten-to-fifteen years since I read Robin Hobb’s classic novel. Thanks to  Assassin’s Apprentice #4, I soon got a pleasant sense of Déjà (Thoris) Vu. It also reminded me of Steven Brust’s novels about Vlad Taltos, an assassin and crime lord who one day decides to change his life for the better. While I’ve read all his Taltos books several times, I’ve never returned to Robin Hobb’s novel or read her eight follow-ups. Perhaps that time has finally come.

With its emphasis on learning and character, Assassin’s Apprentice #4 transports us to a Fantasy world populated by fully-rounded characters who wield magic as readily as swords. Avoid those who would mock you or heap scorn upon comic book adaptations. The wise reader will benefit from reading this issue. I may not be an assassin, but that’s my creed.


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