Fantasy book that stands out of the crowd (no elves, dwarves, wizards), but is still fantasy from "f" to "y".
The series is not very new (1997, first book), but I only put my hands on it a few months ago and I was rather impressed...
The trilogy consists of three books - Assassin's Apprentice, Royal Assassin and Assassin's Quest, but the trilogy is just one part of the bigger cycle, set in the same world which contains the Liveship Traders trilogy and another four-tome series, 10 books so far, so it will take some time to read, however here I will just describe the first trilogy - The Farseer Trilogy. Instead of retelling the storyline I will just give an overview of the setting and main characters, that will give the feel of the book without any spoilers...
The trilogy is set in the kingdom of Six Duchies (Buck, Farrow, Tilth, Bearn, Rippon and Shoaks), this is a largely coastal kingdom, that exists on a peninsula, with its capital in Buckkeep. The dukes are pretty much autonomous in the rulings of their lands, but all pay homage to King Shrewd. The western landlocked duchies of Tilth and Farrow were only won over only recently and most nobles have still retained a certain degree of independence. Directly to the west lies a mountain range (unnamed, i think), and the Mountain Kingdom with the capital in the town of Jhampe, to the south lie steppes of Chalced States. The east and north boundaries are coasts. To the north-east quite a way from the duchies lie the Outislands, whose people raid the duchies as often as they come to trade. The current biggest danger to the duchies are a new tribe of Outislanders whose red ships have started savagely pillaging whole towns, without actually taking anything from them, motives are as yet unknown.
King Shrewd Farseer - King of the Six Duchies, ageing but still maintaining a sharp grip on his surroundings. A successful king, added Tilth and Farrow to the kingdom, won support of his people, the kingdom would thrive if not for the constant debilitating raids of the red ships in the past few years. Has three sons from two wives (both dead) - Prince Chivalry and Prince Verity from the first marriage, Prince Regal from the second. Second marriage to the Duchess of Farrow to secure peace.
Prince Chivalry Farseer - The oldest prince, successful general and diplomat, at the start of the trilogy away on an expedition against the Chalced States. Lives up to his name, is courteous, honest and a good fighter. However during one of the expeditions fathered a bastard, left him with the woman. Married a low-ranking noble for love.
Prince Verity Farseer - The middle prince, a hard-working honest man. Good fighter, but not sophisticated enough for court diplomacy. Earned trust of his men through many battles, loved and respected. Very close to Chivalry, unmarried.
Prince Regal Farseer - The youngest prince, Shrewd's son from the second marriage. Arrogant and boastful. Had a great affinity for his mother and inland duchies, convinced that his mother was poisoned. Wasteful, spends most of the time feasting, even though he is not a bad hunter.
Fitz Chivalry Farseer - The bastard son of Chivalry, brought to the castle of Buckkeep and left in the care of the royal family. As Chivalry is away Verity puts him under care of Burrich, the castle stablemaster. Fitz possesses a gift of great affinity towards animals, akin to that of a DnD ranger, but much stronger, called the Wit. Poses a threat as an heir to the throne.
Burrich - The castle stablemaster, a huge man, widely respected by the common folk. Incredibly skilled with animals, bred several generations of horses, also cares for dogs, hawks and other noble's animals. His skills are widely appreciated by the nobles, he is as close to Chivalry as a common man can be. Hated by the second queen and consequently by Regal.
Chade - The royal assassin, whose existence is only known by Shrewd and his Fool. Implements the diplomacy of the knife for his King. Spent about 30 years doing his work for the kingdom and so is rather knowledgeable about weapons, poisons, subterfuge, forging and so on.
There are about four or five more important characters that crop up as the book progressess, but it would be giving the storyline away to introduce them. The Fool is rather important as well, but he's better left to discover for yourself.
Finally, some of my thoughts on the book. It's one of the best fantasy books I've ever read, and definetely is the best in the past two years. Why? Well, it has finesse, something that most other books lack, attention to relevant details, beautiful descriptions and keeping to the point. There really aren't any skippable pages, even though the books are decently sized. Suspense is well kept throughout and the plot is sophisticated, but not overly complex and there are enough twists not to go asleep. So get it, unfortunately in America it has a very cheesy cover, that really does not do justice to the book.