I'm one twelfth of the way there!
Reviews of the first two:
Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb
The prince of a coastal kingdom sires a bastard son and is forced to relinquish his claim to the throne in the ensuing scandal. Without even the dignity of a proper name, the child is left in the care of an alcoholic stablemaster and then forgotten about... until the day the king decides that such an overlooked and inconspicuous person would make an ideal candidate for his new professional assassin.
It's an intriguing and exciting premise for a fantasy book. And with such intriguing side characters as a precognizant court jester, a malevolent psychic drill instructor, and an armada of mysterious pirates who transform their captives into Reaver-like zombies it doesn't stop being interesting. What stops Assassin's Apprentice from being a magnificent fantasy novel is that the protagonist is well... dumb. Seriously, this kid is as dumb as a bag of hammers. He is a passive milquetoast who seems perfectly content just to let things happen to him no matter how humiliating or degrading they are. A hero should have flaws, but when he's just one big flaw after another it gets harder to see why we should care about him.
The pacing of the book isn't terrible, but it's still slow as far as fantasy novels go. It really picks up in the third act however, the last hundred pages or so being crammed with suspense and excitement that leads to a concluscion that left me wanting to read more.
I'll be reading the other two books in the Farseer Trilogy. If you enjoy low-magic fantasy I suggest you do so as well, if you don't mind a hero you'd love to smack across the face a few times.
His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman
On an alternate Earth where every human is accompanied by an incarnate extension of their soul called a "daemon" a shadowy organization is kidnapping children. The kidnappings may be tied to the discovery of a new type of quantum particle and to a mysterious otherworldly city in the sky. Armed only with these clues and well, a golden compass that's more than what it seems, a scruffy orphan sets out to save the children and maybe the entire universe as well.
Say what you want about Pullman as a person, he knows how to write an exciting yarn. The fully-realized steampunk world he creates is vivid, brilliantly detailed, and filled with memorable characters. The publicity machine may be trying to tout His Dark Materials as the next big thing in children's literature, but the cloak-and-dagger mysteries and nation-hopping chases owe far more to Indiana Jones then they do Harry Potter. It's a fast, fun story of high adventure. My only complaint is that the ending felt a little abrupt.
Speaking of the ending, I'm more curious than ever to see how they turned this novel into the Big Family Movie of the holiday season because well... the ending is very dark. In fact it ends on quite a downer. Based on that and on many events throughout the story, I'd say this is not a book for younger children. But it is a book with a very important message that children need to hear: that there are adults out there who will hurt and do bad things to children, and that you need to be careful who you trust.
In regards to my own writing, my Apocalypse world short story is zipping alone nicely. It's taking so long because I write all stories set in this world in longhand. But I'm getting work done on it daily and feel confident saying draft one will be complete by the end of the month. If anyone wants to beta-read it let me know. Familiarity with Apocalypse Woman is not necessary to understand the story.