At Buckkeep in the Six Duchies, young Fitz, the bastard son of Prince Chivalry, is raised as a stablehand by old warrior Burrich. But when Chivalry dies without legitimate issue -- murdered, it's rumored -- Fitz, at the orders of King Shrewd, is brought into the palace and trained in the knightly and courtly arts. Meanwhile, secretly at night, he receives instruction from another bastard, Chade, in the assassin's craft. Now, King Shrewd's subjects are imperiled by the visits of the Red-Ship Raiders -- formidable warriors who pillage the seacoasts and turn their human victims into vicious, destructive zombies. Since rehabilitating the zombies proves impossible, it's Fitz's task to go abroad covertly and kill them as quickly and humanely as possible. Shrewd orders that Fitz be taught the Skill -- mental powers of telepathy and coercion possessed by all those of the royal line; his teacher is Galen, a sadistic ally of the popinjay Prince Regal, who hates Fitz all the more for his loyalty to Shrewd's other son, the stalwart soldier Verity. Galen brutalizes Fitz and, unknown to anyone, implants a mental block that prevents Fitz from using the Skill. Later, Shrewd decrees that, to cement an alliance, Verity shall wed the Princess Kettricken, heir to a remote yet rich mountain kingdom. Verity, occupied with Skillfully keeping the Red-Ship Raiders at bay, can't go to collect his bride, so Regal and Fitz are sent. Finally, Fitz must discover the depths of Regal's perfidy, recapture his true Skill, win Kettricken's heart for Verity, and help Verity defeat the Raiders. An intriguing, controlled, and remarkably assured debut, at once satisfyingly self-contained yet leaving plenty of scope for future extensions and embellishments.