I read this book first, then read Assassin's Apprentice to see where it started, then finally Assassins Quest with bated breath. Glad I picked it up.
"Royal Assassin" is a lovely play on words, best understood once the story is over, as is the premise that "Chivalry ain't dead" which, while never uttered, provides the foundation for the protagonist's existence. That sense of irony is ever present throughout the series, and is beautifully complemented by Hobbs' use of adjective given names: Shrewd, Desire, Verity, Constance, Regal, etc. The measured development and revelation of each character's flaws and motivations is a beautiful example of how to write a book that startles you with plot twists, all of which ultimately make sense. The hardest character to reach is Regal, which is a shame, since he is a believable self-justified villain.
Hobb's system of magic is easy to grasp, and does not require too great a suspension of disbelief to incorporate, since so few people in the book actually practice the Skill or the Wit. Her ability to demonstrate the suspicions and superstitions of commoners is admirable. Most compelling, however, is her ability to get inside the "coming of age" problem with a stark realism that most cannot achieve. Hobb is also able to address intimate relationships, love, and marriage from a very human, and often humorous perspective, a skill that is rarely displayed in the fantasy genre. The setting is rich with vivid depictions of life in a medeival castle. You can smell the stew cooking in the kitchen, and taste the warm bread that Fitz wheedles from Cook when it is fresh out of the oven. You also appreciate the plain difficulty of getting things done, even for one endowed with the Skill. And you empathize with the archetypical ailing king, whose hold on life and his kingdom are both weakening, and who nonetheless battles to impose his will on the events shaping his kingdom.
Best of all, Fitz is an imperfect protagonist, who must rely on tenacity and his various friends to achieve his goals and survive in the deadly environment of court intrigue. The only problem with reading this book is that most contemporary fantasy pales in comparison. Robin Hobb has raised the bar.