Tough Travelling: Apprentices
Welcome to Tough Travelling, a monthly feature in which we rack our brains for popular (and not so popular) examples of fantasy tropes.
Created by Nathan of Fantasy Review Barn, revived on Fantasy Faction and now continued by the team here at the Hive, Tough Travelling is inspired by the informative and hilarious Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones. Fellow bloggers are absolutely welcome to join in – just make your own list, publish it on your site, and then submit the link at the end of this article!
This month, we’re searching for APPRENTICES. Special thanks to T.O. Munro, T. Eric Bakutis, Megan Haskell, Alicia Wanstall-Burke, G.D. Penman, James Latimer and Laura M. Hughes for contributing to the list below!
(The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss)
There must be an element of apprenticeship in all stories that lead a protagonist from childhood into epic stature in a fantasy world. Kvothe, though, seems to have more apprenticeships than most. He is first apprentice troubadour to his wandering family of players, the Edema Ruh. He is then apprentice wizard to the itinerant Abenthy, a study he does well enough in to eventually get accepted into the university and study under Master Namer Elodin. In book two, he serves an apprenticeship to the matriarchal warriors of the Adem – a society whose only export is mercenaries of consummate skill. And how can one not mention his apprenticeship to Felurian, the seductive elf who – in just three days of real-world time (and many nights of faerie time) – transforms Kvothe from a shy and inept ginger in love to a flaming red-headed lothario in any number of bedrooms. Some authorial wish fulfilment, methinks.
(Bloodsounder’s Arc by Jeff Salyards)
Arkamondos (aka. Arki) is an educated yet naïve small-town scribe who’s been hired to chronicle the day-to-day activities of a brutal warband. Arki’s new comrades hail from the shadowy Syldoon empire; led by Captain Braylar Killcoin, each man in the company comes across as hard-bitten and wholly at ease with violence and death. Salyards’ charming and eloquent narrative voice captures perfectly the difficulties and doubts of an untested chronicler. And Scourge of the Betrayer represents the beginning of a journey – a surprisingly subtle journey – of discovery, both for the reader discovering the story and characters, and for Arki discovering that maybe he can cope with whatever the hell he’s gotten into after all.
(The Sanyare Chronicles by Megan Haskell)
Rie is a human with fae ancestry who becomes the apprentice to Sanyaro, the truthseeker and mediator of the nine faerie realms. In the second book, Sanyare: The Heir Apparent, she’s learning to harness her magic, but Sanyaro has never had an apprentice before. He makes almost as many mistakes in how he teaches her as she makes in learning.
(The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch)
In The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch introduces us to the charming con man Locke Lamora. The main story of a masterful con in a fantastically reimagined Venice (aka Camorr) is flecked with digressions into Locke’s backstory and his apprenticeship to Father Chains, the master thief who bought him as a six year old. In structure, their relationship resembles that between Fagin and the Artful Dodger, though Chains is a much more sympathetic master than Dickens’ creation. The key lesson Locke learns is of the demands of propriety for, in Camorr at least, there is honour amongst thieves.
(Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke)
In Clarke’s alternative nineteenth-century England, magic is considered a lost art. Not since the disappearance of the Raven King – a legendary magician who once ruled the North – and his successors have there been any true magicians. That is, until Mr Norrell makes himself known as the only practical magician in England, and possibly the world. The fashionable people of London are delighted by such a novelty, while the government see in him an opportunity to gain advantage in the war against Napoleon. When a second magician presents himself to Mr Norrell as a pupil it seems everything is going splendidly . . . but it doesn’t take long before professional disagreements, a string of tragedies, and the interference of a mysterious gentlemanly antagonist begin to make both Strange and Norrell think twice about their ambition to restore magic to England.
(Red Sister by Mark Lawrence)
By their very nature, “school” type stories in which the protagonist receives an education in dark or luminous arts are a form of apprenticeship. Though perhaps the overlapping plurality of masters and students might stretch the definition somewhat. In Nona, Mark Lawrence has created a captivating heroine studying in a convent of ninja nuns. Few opening lines are as effective a testament to the quality of the apprentice’s training than this: “It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size. For Sister Thorn of the Sweet Mercy Convent Lano Tacsis brought two hundred men.”
(Age of Assassins by RJ Barker)
Girton is the apprentice to Master Merela Khan, an assassin who saves him at a young age and raises him as an assassin. But rather than raise him in hardship and in harm’s way, Merela has raised him with love and care. This can be felt throughout the story. Age of Assassins is a coming of age told from the first person POV, that person being an old head on a young man’s body. It deals with such themes as acceptance, bullying, the ‘isms’ of diversity, love (both romantic and familial), friendship and growing up. Girton has a whole lot of heart and hope, and with these goes hurt, hand in hand.
PUG (and TOMAS)
(Magician by Raymond E. Feist)
Magician is a tale of two boys, Pug and Tomas, as the war in their kingdom forces them to leave their humble beginnings and embark on adventures that will change them both forever. Tomas follows a dark path in an attempt to become a warrior of legend, while Pug is, of course, the eponymous magician. As the title would suggest, there is a much heftier focus on Pug, with Tomas’ storyline relegated to more of a side quest. Pug is a likeable and sympathetic protagonist – despite the distractingly ridiculous name – and his journey is full of twists and turns and is a lot of fun to follow. We see him grow from orphaned keep boy to court squire, and from there to a dedicated student of magic, if only an average one; we then follow him in his misfortunes as he is made a slave in an alien land, and finally have the satisfaction of seeing him rise and embrace the role of master magician.
(The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin)
In Jemisin’s Dreamblood duology, there are four natural by-products of dreaming: dreambile, dreamblood, dreamichor and dreamseed. Each of these can be harvested from anyone, and each has its own uses in religious healing, but the most rare and valuable is dreamblood. Dreamblood is produced at the moment of death, and can only be collected by Gatherers, who are essentially assassins completing contracts submitted to their order, the Hetawa. Ehiru is the most revered Gatherer in Gujaareh, and Nijiri is his apprentice and closest friend. Their relationships is explored via beautiful moonlit cityscapes and evocative dream sequences, as well as a few darker moments of horror.
(Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone)
Three Parts Dead follows Tara Abernathy (a newly-graduated Craftswoman) as she is recruited to a necromantic law firm by one of its partners; her mentor, Ms Kevarian. Her job? To bring a god back to life before His city falls apart. Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis’s steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot. Tara has to resurrect Kos before chaos sets in, though her only ally (apart from Ms Kevarian) is Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god, who’s having an understandable crisis of faith. When Tara and Abelard discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb’s courts—and their quest for the truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and Alt Coulumb’s slim hope of survival.
(Goldenfire by A.F.E. Smith)
Ree Quinn – a noble-born girl from the provinces – is disgruntled to learn that she’s not the only person vying for the distinction of becoming Darkhaven’s first female Helmsman. But she has a lot to learn, and in her desperation to separate herself from other women and escape the sort of sexist abuse she anticipates receiving from the male hopefuls, she herself unwittingly inflicts that same misogynistic attitude on her female peer. Smith carefully highlights problematic issues – such as feminism – without ever sounding preachy; Ree’s hypocrisy isn’t immediately obvious, and just as she learns the error of her ways, so too does Smith ensure her readers emerge a little bit more enlightened than before. Goldenfire is, in many ways, a self-aware deconstruction of judicial and societal issues. It’s also a well-written (and bloody exciting) mystery novel that uses its killer plot and engaging characters to unravel these issues in a succinct, honest and wry – if cynical – manner.
(The Painted Man by Peter V. Brett)
Before he aspired to near demi-god status in the later books of Brett’s Demon Cycle quintet, Arlen was merely a farm boy with a good eye for detail and fine penmanship. He hungered for the romantic adventure of being a messenger like the man who saved him from the dark of a demon-infested night. However, first he’s placed him as apprentice to old Cob – a warder – to develop and hone his skills at the essential task of drawing the wards to repel or trap demons. “You can learn a lot from Cob, he was a messenger before I was even born.”
(Larcout by K.A. Krantz)
“Live. Learn. Burn.” Vadrigyn is a half-breed outcast from a brutal land, uprooted from her home and thrust into a place called the Jewelled City. There, she learns that she’s now ‘bonded’ with a mentor named le Zyrn, and that the bond can’t be severed until Vadrigyn passes her Trial of Identity… or until one – or both – die. Resourceful, pragmatic, adaptable – our protagonist is quick to learn, and becomes increasingly open-minded as the story progresses. She’s also surprisingly loyal, as well as (unsurprisingly) honest; and best of all, she sticks to her principles whilst also demonstrating a rare willingness to listen to reason. It’s impossible not to admire such aggressive resolve, and such flat-out refusal to become a victim. The reader shares her frustration with the Larcoutian women’s complicity in their own weakness; the refusal of even the most forward-thinking of them to understand that power lies not only in the body but in the mind. Vadrigyn is a perfect antidote to the Jewelled City’s strict patriarchy; and watching her demolish expectations, traditions, prejudices and manipulations is immensely satisfying.
(The Vagrant by Peter Newman)
Peter Newman’s debut novel features – as he (more or less) put it – a one-parent family in a demon-infested post-apocalyptic world. The Vagrant’s voice is never heard, his thoughts rarely glimpsed except through his actions. But the back story interleaved with the main thread identifies him as one of two young men who “missed their chance to be heroes.” But great events are not done with them and events place them with Sir Attica, (playing Bedevere to the Knight Commander’s King Arthur) who trains them in the ways and arts of the winged eye, and step by step by the backstory converges with the main narrative to make a beginning of the end as a divine sword and an untainted baby must be carried beyond the demons’ reach.
(Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb)
Six-year-old Fitz is a bastard of the royal line. Despite possessing both the Wit (the illegal ability to communicate with animals) and the Skill (a hereditary ability that allows the royal family to initiate mind contact with (and potentially manipulate) other people), many consider him unworthy of both. Furthermore, he must keep his Wit hidden, or risk disgracing the house of Farseer – and seeing himself horrifically punished. Assassin’s Apprentice details Fitz’s life over the next ten years or so, where he’s trained as a – you guessed it! – assassin’s apprentice. He also learns the arts of swordplay, Skilling, and the mastery of horses and hounds; but in spite of his achievements, almost no one – including himself – can see beyond his ‘shameful’ illegitimacy. Neither his apprenticeship to Chade the assassin nor his training in the Skill is easy, though: Fitz’s life is fairly brutal, and many of those he cares about are lost or sacrificed. Poor bloke.
(A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin)
During her stint in Harrenhal, Arya likes what she learns from the assassin Jaqen H’ghar – so much so that she travels to Braavos and submits herself as an apprentice at the House of Black and White. There, she learns the (rather creepy) ways of the Faceless Men (assassins), though some would say the process of her tutelage is somewhat… painstaking. Another ‘apprentice’ figure from the same series is Podrick Payne. Pod is essentially Brienne’s apprentice (well, squire, but that’s essentially the same, right?) and the two of them develop an interesting and rather heartwarming master-student relationship.
This month’s Tough Travelling picks were brought to you by T.O. Munro, T. Eric Bakutis, Megan Haskell, Alicia Wanstall-Burke, G.D. Penman, James Latimer and Laura M. Hughes.
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It’s mother’s day in the UK this month, so April’s topic will be MOTHERS!